Book talk: “Apples and Oranges,” by Marie Brenner

Disclosure: A copy of this book was sent to me for review via Nicole Bruce at Authors on the Web. I received no other compensation.

Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found by Marie Brenner
First Sentence: We fight at the dinner table.

Book Description: 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.
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.

Comments: I just couldn’t warm to this book. As far as memoirs go, it really didn’t work for me, and I found that frustrating. I thought that the best parts of the book were those that involved Marie Brenner’s reporting skills, such as relating the complicated histories of preceding generations of her family and discussions of apple farming. I felt that she was too close to her own story in trying to sort out her always-prickly relationship with her dying brother Carl, and I didn’t really feel that I gained much insight into either of them as people. Brenner does well at relating what happened, and though she’s trying to get to the why, I didn’t really get as much of a sense of that as I wanted to, as a reader. For the most part, the book didn’t resonate emotionally for me, and that’s usually a quality I look for in a memoir. Having said that, though, I should note that I did hang in for the whole thing, and it did eventually all click for me in the last seventy-five pages or so.

As you can see, I’m having some trouble writing objectively about this one – but I suppose that if I found it frustrating enough to want more from it, it did connect with me, just not necessarily as I would have wanted it to.

Rating: 3/5

Other bloggers’ reviews:
If you have reviewed this book, please leave the link in a comment or e-mail it to me at 3.rsblog AT gmail DOT com, and I’ll edit this review to include it!

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  1. It took me awhile to warm up to this book, but I eventually did. It sounds like you liked the same bits I did, in particular the family history.

    I think you make a very good point about the author doing a good job of telling us what happened, but she didn’t offer us much insight beyond that–the why.

    There was one paragraph in the book that really resonated with me, just the same. It was as if she were describing my family to a perfect T. Marie and her brother’s relationship really wasn’t all that similar to mine with my brother–but some of the general family history I could relate to.

    I am glad we got to read this book around the same time! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the book.

  2. Literary Feline – Although both of us are definitely readers, it doesn’t seem like we often overlap in what we read, so I agree – it was very nice to be reading a book at the same time (although unplanned), and I thought your review was very good, and more about the book itself than mine is :-).

    And I must admit that I felt better about my response to the book when I learned you had some trouble warming up to it too. Validation is a nice thing.