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A New York Times Favorite Book of the Year
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Memoir of the Year
Marie Brenner's extraordinary memoir of sibling rivalry asks a universal question: How can two people from the same family turn out so entirely different? Brenner's brother, Carl, lives in the apple country of Washington State, cultivating his orchards, polishing his guns, and attending church, while Marie, a world-class journalist and bestselling author, leads a sophisticated life among the "New York libs" whom he loathes. His life far from their secular Jewish childhood in Texas was as mysterious to her as their tangled past. In this affecting family saga, Brenner investigates their contentious history and discovers how inspiring it can be to turn a brother into an ally. Honest, funny, and true, Apples and Oranges is a moving story of sibling rivalry and redemption.
"Dying of cancer, terrified of becoming an invalid and reluctant to give up his strenuous life, Carl Brenner—a former trial lawyer turned apple grower—prepared to take his own life in early 2003. He returned home to Texas, took his computer hard drive to a garbage dump on the other side of San Antonio, and filled his car with every piece of paper that might tell anyone anything about his life. He invited friends and cousins over to cart away his possessions—his guns, his fishing tackle, his books and prints. And for good measure, he spent several hours erasing all of his last appointments from his calendar. 'He is possessed by his mission—to erase every trace,' his sister, Marie Brenner, writes in this extraordinary memoir. 'He will see to it that there is almost nothing left to draw upon. No files of flirtatious letters from ex-girlfriends or diaries or e-mails that have the slightest degree of intimacy. He will, he decides, simply try to vanish without a trace.' 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 . . . In the process of recounting the story of her relationship with her brother, Ms. Brenner also gives us a wonderfully vivid picture of her uncommon family: her grandfather Isidor, who made and lost and made five fortunes in Mexico and Texas; her father, Milton, who always sounded 'very Texas, boastful and confident as if he’d been born in a uniform'; her mother, Thelma, who as an organizer of San Antonio Mothers for Peace made plans to confront Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara in his hotel room ('If I look chic, maybe he’ll let us in'); and her Aunt Anita, who posed for the photographer Edward Weston, interviewed Trotsky and hung out in Mexico with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and José Clemente Orozco. 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. In a note to her, he asked her to forgive him for taking his life. 'Please turn off the air-conditioning,' he added. 'I send you my love, now and forever. Carl.'"—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Brothers and sisters can be so confounding. How can people who share the same parents turn out so darn different and often be mired in such conflict? That question is at the heart of Marie Brenner's masterly new memoir, Apples & Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found. Brenner, a writer at large for Vanity Fair magazine, has crafted a courageous and wrenching examination of sibling differences, as well as an important meditation on the limitations of journalism. There is much pain and poignancy here, but also hopeful truths . . . Apples & Oranges is a hard-won testament to the power of love and forgiveness in families. Yet the greatest strength of Marie Brenner's profound memoir is how it asks the toughest of questions but avoids the usual facile answers. Even a master reporter cannot always solve the final riddles of another person's personality or motivations."—John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"Brenner's memoir of her difficult relationship with her brother Carl is unusual for the honesty and depth of its exploration of the confusing ties between brothers and sisters. Carl Brenner was aloof and prickly, a conservative lawyer who became an apple farmer in Washington. He loathed his journalist sister's life in New York City but accepted her help when he was diagnosed with cancer."—Jeff Baker, The Oregonian (Portland)
"An acid-laced tale of family love."—USA Today
"In this deeply affecting memoir, a journalist uses the prism of her love and grief for her dead brother—and her bewilderment over the twists and turns of his eccentric life—to create a haunting portrait of him and their uncommon family."—The Wichita Eagle
“Apples & 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
“At three, 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 . . . in her memoir, Apples & Oranges. 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
"The memoir doesn't get much respect—and why should it? Starting sometime in the 1990s, just about every American and her hamster decided to publish an account of their wretched childhood, witchy socialite stepmother, alcoholic homeless father, or struggles with bulimia. Many of these confessional memoirs, which continue to flood the marketplace, are abysmally written; others are packed with exaggerations and outright fabrications. But there's a simple way to weed out the handful of memoirs worth reading. Just as you wouldn't let anyone remove your appendix or even trim your bangs without checking their credentials, consider exercising similar discretion: Stick to memoirs by proven writers. (Frank McCourt was the exception that proves the rule.) Want to narrow things down further? Seek out memoirs by journalists—men and women who are trained, by profession, to glance up from their navels now and then, check their facts, and write with economy and wit. Some of the best recent memoirs are the work of journalists . . . In Apples and Oranges, Marie Brenner approaches her stormy relationship with her older brother, a cantankerous right-wing apple farmer, like the Vanity Fair correspondent that she is, taking notes on their fraught conversations, sifting through family archives for clues about their longtime rivalry, struggling to corroborate and flesh out her own hazy perceptions and memories."—Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly
“Apples & 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 & 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
“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 . . . A rich and masterful memoir.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Brenner courageously and affectingly plumbs the depths of often complex family and sibling relationships.”—Publishers Weekly
MARIE BRENNER's Vanity Fair exposé of the tobacco industry was the basis for the Academy Award-nominated film The Insider. She also wrote Great Dames: What I Learned from Older Women.
Marie Brenner discusses her book APPLES AND ORANGES at Flashpoint Academy in Chicago.