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Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost…

Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found

by Marie Brenner

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Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy, Last Night of Ballyhoo) has been commissioned to write a play based on this memoir by Marie Brenner. It's scheduled to premier in Atlanta in October. I'm looking forward to it because I think the play is likely to improve it.
There are parts of the memoir that are very beautifully written, especially when Ms. Brenner, a writer for Vanity Fair, conveys the positive aspects of her relationship with her dying brother. Much of it is, however, disjointed and very hard to follow, especially the experiences of their parents and Aunt Anita.
One of the themes in the memoir that Mr. Uhry will likely pick up on (and which he has done so well in the past) is the experience of Jews trying to succeed in the 20th century South. Ms. Brenner is a talented writer, but this memoir needed smoother passages and better linking among events.
Update on the play: saw it last weekend in Atlanta. Uhry has another hit on his hands. He wisely chose to eliminate much of the background story and pared it down to two characters in a moving, 75-minute, one-act play. Patricia Richardson (yes, the wife of Tim the Toolman in Home Improvement) did a marvelous job as Brenner. We laughed and we cried. I hope they make it into a movie. ( )
1 vote lansum | Aug 14, 2012 |
Non-fiction is a tricky genre for me. It is unfamiliar territory, yet I want to read more of it in order to understand it better. I also like to learn more about real people and their lives. Perhaps connecting in a way that might help me better understand mine.

Hence why I was drawn to this book.

Not to get too personal, but I too have had issues with my own sibling relationship and wonder if someday, somehow, it can ever be repaired. I cannot say if this book offers me hope in that regard, but it has offered comfort in knowing that what has happened in my life is not unique. Feeling alone in something can be the worst kind of torture. To know you are not alone helps.

One sentiment that struck me most was this: "The stage is set, soon enough we will live on opposite sides of the country. By then, we will have developed dossiers of grievances against each other."

How those words resonate with me.

In the end, I was left with these questions that I still ponder as I have no answer to them: Where is the line drawn that runs between the relationship that should be versus the one that will be? That no matter how we are raised, we end up being the individuals we are fated to be, and many times, that person cannot get along with or understand someone who is born from the same gene pool. Why does this happen? How can it be fixed?

As the author noted: "That we are not close seems a badge of shame, a personal failure, a more of my inabilities . . ."

And it is this I struggle with each as to me, to be so estranged from family is some kind of shame – a failure. But as the author learns, there is no shame or failure in a sibling relationship gone awry.

In answer to an interview question about the competition inherent in sibling relationships, Brenner answers in a way that shows clearly, she and her brother did indeed come to terms regarding this aspect of their rivalry:

That was what the last years were about. We fought and fought, and then something happened. I went to visit him in his world. It was glorious. I’d never imagined how great it was and is. I worked with him in the orchards and learned about the apple. That caused him to relax – somewhat. Anyway, it gave us something new to talk about. I learned something huge: to try to see him as he was. And I realized I loved who he was – however maddening he could be. He might say a version of this, too. We were finally able to be a brother and sister, not two only children in the same family.

As memoirs go, this is one of the better ones I’ve read. I’m still unsure if I will grow to appreciate non-fiction as much as what I usually read, but if there are more on the shelves as good as this one, then it just may happen ( )
  jcmontgomery | Nov 11, 2009 |
For such an accomplished journalist, she seemed oddly needy with a very difficult personality. Her ADD would have driven me as crazy as it did her brother. And this manifested in the structure of the book, which was all over the place, from her Mexican ancestors (who I didn't have the slightest interest in) to apple growing (likewise). The parts about her brother were the most interesting. ( )
  bobbieharv | Feb 24, 2009 |
I was disappointed. When Brenner stuck to her relationship with her brother Carl, I enjoyed the book. Carl is a fascinating character and Brenner is better at fleshing him out than she is about herself. I found the amount of time devoted to the family history distracting. ( )
  ccayne | Jan 19, 2009 |
Sad and rambling memoir with very little to recommend it. The author couldn't walk a straight line ... especially when there was something glittery along the way to grab her attention. It's possible readers who like non-linear writing may find it to their liking. ( )
  NewsieQ | Jul 10, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374173524, Hardcover)

To be sure, some brothers and sisters have relationships that are easy. But oh, some relationships can be fraught. Confusing, too: How can two people share the same parents and turn out to be entirely different?

Marie Brenner’s brother, Carl—yin to her yang, red state to her blue state—lived in Texas and in the apple country of Washington state, cultivating his orchards, polishing his guns, and (no doubt causing their grandfather Isidor to turn in his grave) attending church, while Marie, a world-class journalist and bestselling author, led a sophisticated life among the “New York libs” her brother loathed.

From their earliest days there was a gulf between them, well documented in testy letters and telling photos: “I am a textbook younger child . . . training as bête noir to my brother,” Brenner writes. “He’s barely six years old and has already developed the Carl Look. It’s the expression that the rabbit gets in Watership Down when it goes tharn, freezes in the light.”

After many years apart, a medical crisis pushed them back into each other’s lives. Marie temporarily abandoned her job at Vanity Fair magazine, her friends, and her husband to try to help her brother. Except that Carl fought her every step of the way. “I told you to stay away from the apple country,” he barked when she showed up. And, “Don’t tell anyone out here you’re from New York City. They’ll get the wrong idea.”

As usual, Marie—a reporter who has exposed big Tobacco scandals and Enron—irritated her brother and ignored his orders. She trained her formidable investigative skills on finding treatments to help her brother medically. And she dug into the past of the brilliant and contentious Brenner family, seeking in that complicated story a cure, too, for what ailed her relationship with Carl. If only they could find common ground, she reasoned, all would be well.

Brothers and sisters, Apples and Oranges. Marie Brenner has written an extraordinary memoir—one that is heartbreakingly honest, funny and true. It’s a book that even her brother could love.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:32 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A liberal Vanity Fair reporter recounts her attempt to reconnect with her conservative apple-farmer brother when the latter fell ill, an attempt that brought to the surface their disparate beliefs about politics, lifestyle choices, and priorities.

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