Creating a short list of books that capture the experience of brotherhood is like trying to figure out the perfect names for six horses you’ve never met, or cooking a romantic dinner for a stranger with several undisclosed food allergies. .—a strangely personal and high-stakes task. Each family is radically different in a way that is opaque to outsiders; the nuances of my relationship with my brother can shed light on your relationship with yours.
In some ways, these bonds are like any other: vulnerability, trust, and mutual experiences can create intimacy, although there is no guarantee that this closeness will last. Yet the unique feeling of sharing parents or growing up together makes this relationship unique. For many of us, our bonds with our brothers and sisters will be the longest in our lives. My parents practically stuck my brother and me together when we were kids, insisting that a day would come when we only had each other.
My next novel Night pharmacy, is about two sisters with a close but toxic bond, navigating between addictions to prescription drugs and each other. I have always been drawn to books that capture a certain spirit of brotherhood: namely, how our brothers and sisters can feel less like people roaming freely in the world and more like extensions of our own bodies – an essential organ or an injury, maybe both. These six books are about the complexity of having siblings, in all its rapture and messiness.
If I survive youby Jonathan Escoffery
Escoffery’s first collection of tie-in stories is a biting tale of sibling rivalry and a moving family saga about the immigrant experience and life between cultures in Miami. Our American-born protagonist, Trelawny, clashes with his Jamaican-born older brother, Delano, in their disparate pursuits of financial stability, parental love, and masculinity. Delano, the undisputed favorite, is following in his father’s footsteps supporting his wife and children as a landscaper, while Trelawny pursues a college education. But post-recession, Trelawny’s college degree doesn’t stop her from living out of her car and working a slew of precarious jobs (predatory building management, Craigslist sex-racing game). Escoffery is a blacksmith who makes us laugh even as he puts his characters through the meat grinder of capitalism. “Oh, thank goodness,” Trelawny thinks after receiving another death threat at work – this time in the form of an anonymous drawing of a lynched man – and realizing it was addressed to “El Jefe”:” I handed the paper to my manager and said, “This is for you.” When sibling fortunes are turned around, Trelawny must decide if he should be a better sibling to Delano than he is. was for him. The choice is sour, mixed with that particular pain that only deep disappointment engenders.
Black openingby Matt Rasmussen
“Nothing must ever absolutely happen,” Rasmussen writes in this collection of poetry, which describes the circumstances and consequences of his brother’s suicide. “When our hero is sitting / on the edge of his bed contemplating the gun / on his bedside table, it must be believed that he could / could not use it.” It’s a bitter paradox: we have to imagine a world where the gun might not fire, even though Black opening reminds us that he can and will. Rasmussen resists schmaltz at every turn, opting for language so sharp and stripped down that one could never accuse him of reaching pathos. The poem “Reverse Suicide” reverses the sequence of events on the day of the suicide, echoing the way trauma replays in our minds in surreal loops: “Every snowflake flutters before/rises in the heaven as I learn that you will not be dead. “We don’t have a clear idea of the relationship the speaker and his brother had during his lifetime. But the book’s second poem, “After the Suicide,” tells us all we need to know: “I wanted to put my finger / into the hole / to feel the smooth channel / through which it escaped.” The speaker’s acknowledgment that his brother needed to escape his body, coupled with his desire to study – or block – the bullet hole anyway, hit me like a brick.
normal familyby Chrysta Bilton
The stunning premise of this memoir somehow manages not to overshadow its beautiful prose. Bilton and his sister were raised by a goofy lesbian mother, who paid a handsome stranger she met at a hair salon to give her his cum. Bilton’s father, despite promising not to donate sperm to anyone else, secretly continues to make a living as one of California Cryobank’s most in-demand donors. Bilton’s half-siblings probably number in the hundreds, and she describes meeting 35 of them on her thrilling one-book roller coaster. His unpredictable but ever-loving mother falls into several cults, pyramid schemes, and addictions that swing Bilton and his sister between living in mansions with a menagerie of exotic animals and homelessness on horseback. There are utterly ridiculous celebrity encounters, anecdotes that take the nature versus nurture debate to extremes, and a host of uncovered family secrets (Bilton’s mother finally exposed Bilton’s half-siblings after discovered that her daughter may be dating her half-brother). normal family will leave you, in the best way, wondering what either of these words actually means.
When my brother was Aztecby Natalie Diaz
In a 2015 conversation with poetry interview site Divedapper, Diaz said, “You can’t tell the truth because no one will believe the truth if we tell them.” She advises her students to reinvent their stories to allow the reader to better glimpse their truth, from one angle. The truth, in Diaz’s case, highlights the dynamic personalities she grew up with in the Indian village of Fort Mojave in Needles, California. Her first collection of poetry, about a woman navigating desire and the fracture of her family as her brother descends into methamphetamine addiction, uses fantasy to explore the tenderness and violence of love in its many shapes. Judas; Barbie Mojave; and the half-human, half-hummingbird god Huitzilopochtli are among the many secondary characters in the book. Diaz’s signature dark humor captures the absurdity of caring for someone you lose in real time: “He’s my brother and I need a shovel / to love him,” writes Diaz , shortly before imagining his funeral. Then comes the third part of the book, which contains some of the most sensual and painful odes to an unnamed beloved that I have ever read (“there is no apple, / there is than that woman / who is a city of apples, / it’s only me who licks the juice / from the streets of her palm”). I was shocked to learn that Diaz had been advised to cut the pieces on desire.When we finally return to the brother, we do so with the love poems reminder that beyond our pain there is still a tomorrow.
All my little sorrowsby Miriam Toews
This is the funniest book you’ll ever read about a beloved brother’s unquenchable desire to end his life. Toews’ tragicomic novel follows the narrator, Yoli, and her internationally acclaimed pianist sister, Elf, as they navigate an unsolvable impasse: “She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who stood together. ‘loved,’ writes Toews. The sisters have been close since their Mennonite childhood, during which, the narrator notes, “therapy was considered inferior even to bestiality, for at least bestiality is somewhat understandable in isolated farming communities.” Where Black opening ruminates on the speaker’s powerlessness to prevent his brother’s suicide, All my little sorrows offers its protagonist a spooky invitation. Elf asks Yoli to take her to a Swiss clinic that would help her end her life, and Yoli must then decide if helping Elf die would be the ultimate act of devotion. Quirky humor aside, All my little sorrows is lucid in its articulation of fierce brotherly love. “I’m relieved that Elf wants his glasses,” Yoli thinks after one of Elf’s suicide attempts. “That there’s something she wants to see.”
earn me somethingby Kyle Lucia Wu
Wu’s thrilling debut novel follows a 24-year-old Chinese-American woman named Willa, who earns her living as a nanny Bijou, the 9-year-old daughter of a wealthy white New York family. Willa’s parents divorced and started new families when she was a child, and Willa grew up feeling like a holdover from their past lives. Willa’s unspoken resentment at being abandoned keeps her relationship with her three half-siblings distant. Their absence is a hole in her life, and her loving care for her charge – a sister-by-proxy – is deeply touching. Bijou’s family become surrogates for the loving and prosperous family life that Willa has refused, but the adjustment is awkward, as they have no idea of Willa’s experiences with racism and their own whiteness. earn me something reminds us that the stories we tell ourselves can be just as maladaptive as they are self-protective. Wu masterfully engages Willa in her inability to create the life she desires without denying the traumas that led to her inaction. When, towards the end of the novel, Willa accepts her half-sister’s invitation to lunch, she realizes: “Perhaps it wasn’t that everyone was loved more, but that everyone tried. Or that if you knew you were loved, it was easier to try.
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