Brothers Paperback – Nov 30 1994
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From Publishers Weekly
This funny, understated and ruminative novel about the vexed relationship of two middle-aged brothers reflects the author's familiar interest in marital strife and midlife depression.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Del, who used to do p.r. work in Houston, is given a condo in Biloxi, Mississippi, by his grateful ex-father-in-law after Del divorces the man's daughter. Biloxi happens to be home-base for Del's college-teacher brother Bud, too--plus Bud's attractive and level wife Margaret. When Del arrives in Biloxi, though, it's to find Bud gone to California in a spasm of the midlife crisis he's continually having. Del and Margaret keep each other company a little too well--just skirting treachery--and Del's hangover from this continues when Bud returns and proceeds to hold the indiscretion over him. Meanwhile, Del has found the much-younger and quite weird Jen (she publishes a free sheet of gruesome oddities taken off the CompuServe newslines)--and with her help tries to negotiate life with a quite desperate brother, an ambivalent sister-in-law, and Del's own bred-in-the-bone velleity. Small-time academics and a visit by a priest who'd like to chuck his collar don't help to firm up anyone's life-vision--funny, scathing portraiture. Barthelme (Natural Selection, 1990, etc.) writes with exceptional beauty about what Biloxi looks, smells, tastes, and sounds like--its tawdry but lovely gulfside edge--and there is to the characters' confusions and shamblings a new fine melancholy never before quite as codified in Barthelme's fictional world: depressive Bud at one point tells Del, apropos USA Today, that ``People who are supposed to be removed from what's going on, well, they're all part of it now. Everything that could possibly go wrong has already gone wrong, and now it's going wrong even more.'' This finished-fug suggests a redemption of the failed and gives the book hope and some shape. Not much, but enough to make the utterly fantastical image that ends the book--Del as a half-joke wrapping Bud in gauze and foil and leading him out to the condo's balcony for a while--take on indelibility. One of Barthelme's more haunting novels. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This paragraph from half way through the novel serves as a good example of the forward momentum of Frederick Barthelme's narrative. Perhaps `momentum' isn't the right word, as the direction hardly seems driven by forces originating in the past. I can't think of a novel in which past, certainly fate, plays so small a role. Does Fate exist in Barthelme's cosmos? Not much would seem to be more ripe for a depiction of destiny working its strange power than the relationship between brothers (inviting as it can a veritable mess of power struggles and envy, not to mention mythic analogies reaching into the archaic past), and yet Del and Bud here experience less of this than one would have thought dramatically interesting, for all their problems. Actually, `The Brothers', really isn't all that dramatically interesting, but what is compelling is one of the most detailed descriptions of the `new South' that out-Percys Percy, where Gas-mart attendants have bellies the size of cash registers and Kmart and Audio Instinct are more prevalent than plantations.
`The Brothers' is actually a little lopsided as titles go, as all the action is centered around Del, who has just moved to Biloxi following a divorce that took place just before the novel begins. Considering the conflict that is one of the main threads of the novel (even `thread' seems too substantial), Del and Bud seem anxious to help one another. Bud tries to get Del a more respectable job at his community college. Del tries to help Bud out with his mood swings. They act, not to put to fine a point on it, brotherly.
If anything, the friction between Del and the other characters exist as a series of foils for the central relationship between the brothers, which is mysterious enough to resist an easy description of conflict, if not conflict itself. About two thirds of the way through the novel there is a minor incident between Del and his girlfriend involving a knife. Was it an accident, or wasn't it really aggression disguised as an accident? Probably Not, everyone decides - Del, the girlfriend, and perhaps even the narrator - just an accident. Nobody can say for sure, so we just won't bother to say at all. But the injury itself is real, and remains.
Society is no help. A barbecue turns into petty match of egos, simultaneously stunted and monstrous, a road trip brings everybody back to right where they started. Religion isn't what it used to be; now priests are on the lamb to shack up with girlfriends like everybody else, and trying to break into the gambling business to boot. Del and Jen play at confession, and as a result religion seems less mocked than resurrected in some strange new form. Del prays the prayers of his childhood, but of course he isn't a child anymore. Or perhaps prayer given him, at least for a moment, a child's perspective.
There are injuries of many kinds in this novel. Between husband and wife, between colleagues, between strangers and between loved ones, including, of course, brother and brother. The final scene is a funny, endearing example of the power of love and imagination, maybe love as imagination, to heal those injuries.
Sequences are unpredictable and implausible, as though lives are completely out of personal control. Needing a plotline? Invent your own. If you are looking for existential anomie, this may satisfy you, although you might save some time by just reading a bunch of newspaper classified ads.