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.
Marie Brenner discusses her book APPLES AND ORANGES at Flashpoint Academy in Chicago.
“Extraordinary . . . Thanks to his sister's new book, 'Apples & Oranges,' Carl Brenner did not succeed in vanishing without a trace. Rather, his life, with all its startling twists and turns, and his singular, sometimes maddening personality are magically conjured for us in these pages, as Ms. Brenner uses the prism of her love and grief for her brother—and her bewilderment too—to create a haunting portrait of him and their family. She has written a book that captures the nervous, emotionally strangled relationship she shared with him for the better part of their lives, a book that explores the difficult algebra of familial love and the possibility of its renewal in the face of impending loss. . . . Ms. Brenner tracks the leitmotifs that run through their lives, the patterns—of sibling estrangements, of fresh starts and do-overs—that have stamped their family tree, and in doing so she has given us a beautifully observed and deeply affecting memoir, a book written with the unsparing eye of a journalist and the aching heart of a sister who learned in March of 2003 that her ailing brother had killed himself.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“If you’ve ever loathed your sibling, even momentarily, you'll be partial to this memoir. ‘It seems inconceivable that we are connected, and yet not,’ Brenner writes of her obsessive-compulsive brother Carl. Brenner, a journalist, tries to understand him (why he’s so condescending, why he left law to become an apple farmer) the only way she knows how: researching apples, visiting him unannounced at his 110,000-tree orchard in Washington, and taking notes. While our innate craving to pick fights with family may endure, Brenner reminds us that it's more productive to eat apples than to throw them. A-” —Entertainment Weekly
“O, BROTHER, WHO ART THOU?
AT 3, CARL BRENNER welcomed his baby sister into the world by tossing her out the window. The family joked that Carl gave Marie the gift of a hard head, an asset fully in evidence-along with her hungry heart-in her memoir, Apples & Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). More than any other book in recent memory, this one grabs the problem of sibling rivalry by the throat and shakes relentlessly. Carl is dying as the book begins, and Marie, now a celebrated reporter, has found her way back into his life, after decades of soul-bashing standoffs, using her investigative skills to probe the mysteries of his disease-and of their tormented relationship. She may never learn what drove her imperious, obsessive-compulsive, "charm-free" brother to give up a career as a trial lawyer to grow apples in Washington State; or what entrenched family dynamic doomed the siblings to reach for each other only across a "canyon of rage." But it is Marie's furious search for answers that gives this book its power, exposing the sweetness at the core of an embattled love.” —O magazine, June 2008
Good Housekeeping May 2008 Book Pick "To make you hope": "A journalist turns her gaze on her relationship with her dying big brother. Though at the outset they seem like polar opposites, it becomes movingly clear they are sliced from the same pie."
"Vanity Fair writer at large Brenner (Great Dames: What I Learned from Older Women, 2000, etc.) pens an absorbing account of her fractious relationship with her brother. The granddaughter of a Texas discount-store magnate, the author flinched from the ultra-conventional assumptions of her affluent family. (As a college student in the 1960s, she was chagrined to receive an unrequested package of panty girdles from her mother.) Inspired by the example of her aunt Anita, who ran away to Mexico at age 19, befriended Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and became a freelance writer, Brenner thwarted expectations and forged a successful career in journalism that included a pioneering stint as a baseball columnist in Boston. In the autumn of 2001, she traveled from New York to Washington state, determined to explore long-standing tensions with her ailing older brother Carl, a fiery-tempered trial lawyer who’d left his career to cultivate apples. In deft, nuanced prose, Brenner crafts a saga that is part family memoir, part psychological thriller and riveting overview of the U.S. apple-growing industry. The nonlinear narrative never falters as it moves adeptly back and forth in time. Readers will be captivated by the author’s unvarnished yet balanced portrait of her difficulties with a combative sibling who routinely ridiculed her leftist politics and peppered his conversations with tirades about bruised apples and pears. Brenner, who accompanied the ill Carl on a medical research trip to China, details the hurt, hostilities and betrayals she endured with deep compassion and an understanding heart. She also offers vivid examples of the tactics she used to counter her brother’s outlandish behavior and belligerence. Foreshadowed in a stylish prose riff, the book’s carefully executed denouement still packs a powerful punch. A rich and masterful memoir with great value for aspiring practitioners of the genre, as well as discerning readers." --Kirkus Reviews
"Apples and Oranges is original, wrenching, and wonderfully realized. Marie Brenner has written a compellingly honest memoir of a sibling relationship that is at once fraught and instantly recognizable. She has started a conversation about the ignored hot-button topic of brothers and sisters that will reverberate with readers of all ages." --Tina Brown, author of The Diana Chronicles
"Apples and Oranges is genius. It’s the true story of a grown-up brother and sister trying to get along, but always devolving, bickering; always returning to the backseat of the car. Marie Brenner tells her true story with painful rawness and the cold, sure honesty of an X-ray machine. She also tells it with the pen of a poet. It’s the most beautifully written book I’ve read in years." --Lesley Stahl
"The most moving emotion in literature is honesty, and in a memoir, the hardest to achieve. I wept at the end of Apples and Oranges, and not least for Marie Brenner's courage in biting into a forbidden fruit that hangs from every family tree. It's the fruit of knowledge about our flawed humanity in relation to those whom we most love, hate, need, fear to lose--and resemble. One of our best investigative reporters has here filed the story she was born to write." --Judith Thurman, author of Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire