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Tuesday, July 15, 2008 - Page updated at 01:20 PM

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Book Review

Sibling tensions rule in "Apples & Oranges"

"Apples & Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found" by Marie Brenner Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 268 pp., $24 This is a book about...

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Marie Brenner

The author of "Apples & Oranges" will discuss her book at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Douglass-Truth Library, 2300 E. Yesler Way, Seattle. Free. For more information, go to or call the Elliott Bay Book Co. (206-624-6600).

"Apples & Oranges:

My Brother and Me,

Lost and Found"

by Marie Brenner

Farrar, Straus and Giroux,

268 pp., $24


This is a book about a brother and sister who didn't like each other much.

Can't blame them; neither is very likable.

But the book?

In "Apples & Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found," Marie Brenner puts heavy demands on her readers but rewards them in the end. There are generations of family squabbles to keep track of, abbreviated chapters and staccato language that obscure the story, and leaps through years and decades that require mental time travel to follow.

But there is a story, a sad one, that provides food for thought for anyone who has ever struggled to get along with someone close to them — sibling, parent or friend.

But you may struggle first with the Brenner siblings. Marie Brenner, writer at large for Vanity Fair magazine, rarely lets you forget that she could drop all this nonsense with her brother at any time and run off to Afghanistan, Paris or someplace else, where she'd be onto the Big Story in a New York minute. She's dismissive of her brother Carl's girlfriends, and her observations on how people dress in the Pacific Northwest, where much of the book takes place, are chilly: "Where do these people get their clothes?"

She presents Carl — successful trial lawyer until, at the age of 40, he decides to start growing fruit in Washington state — as a know-it-all always demonstrating superior knowledge, an obsessive neat freak endlessly organizing records, railing against the "irresponsible profession of yellow journalism" and trying to control the outcome of everything.

She was three years younger than Carl, and things weren't right between them from the moment he welcomed his baby sister home by pushing her out a window. She listened to Joan Baez albums; he joined the John Birch Society and smashed her records. In their mother's last moments, she was just around the corner, but he — and the rest of the family — neglected to notify her and had already sent the body to the funeral home before she showed up.

She carries her animosity toward him into adulthood, but add terminal illness to the mix and things can change — which is what happens in "Apples & Oranges" and ultimately pulls the story together and gives the book its depth.

And as for controlling the outcome of everything? The choices for Carl are limited, all leading to the same tragic ending.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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