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Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found Paperback – April 28, 2009

3.4 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Perplexing was the family euphemism for Brenner's older brother Carl; the less tactful thought him unknowable, charm-free or plain weird. At 13, in San Antonio, Tex., where his father owned a discount store, Carl joined the John Birch Society. At 40, he left his career as a trial lawyer to become an apple farmer in Washington's Cascade Mountains. Brenner (House of Dreams) and he were on barely civil terms, but when he was 55, he was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, glandular cancer, and asked Marie for help. She responded, leaving her family in New York to be with Carl, who rejected conventional treatment, and to follow him as far away as China for scorpion patches, herbs and red meat for yang deficit. The cancer spread quickly; meanwhile, Marie sought to investigate her family's present and past among her father's feuding siblings, including writer Anita Brenner (who became part of Mexico City's art scene that included Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo). And with this research, Brenner courageously and affectingly plumbs the depths of often complex family and sibling relationships. (May 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Critics generally adored Apples and Oranges. While they all noted how easily a memoir of this kind could have slipped into overly sentimental eulogizing, they gave Brenner credit for openly and honestly detailing both Carl’s difficult personality and her own messy, often misguided attempts to figure him out. The only complaints? One reviewer thought some parts (all of the information on apple farming, for example) digressive, and another cited an initially confusingâ€"but ultimately rewardingâ€"narrative. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer nicely summarized, “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.”
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (April 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312428804
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312428808
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,322,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
All her life, Marie Brenner struggled to understand her older brother, Carl. They had very little in common: Carl was a one-time lawyer turned apple farmer in Washington State; Marie was an investigative journalist in New York City, espousing every cultural and political position Carl professed to hate. He was aloof and patronizing, his put-downs cruel and constant; she was never allowed to forget that she did not impress him. How could she break through?

All she wanted was a loving, solid relationship with her only sibling. To accomplish this, she read everything she could find on sibling relationships and entered psychotherapy herself. But Carl remained Carl, unwavering in his unpleasantness, the man who went so far as to go to a performance of Wagner's "The Ring Cycle" rather than attend his only sister's wedding.

Then Carl was struck with a cancer called adenocarcinoma, which has a survival rate of only 11%. Sure that this would be their chance to bond, their last chance, Marie dropped everything in New York and moved to Washington to be with her brother. He accepted her help, in his own way, as she researched treatment regimens and clinical trials, and learned everything there is to know about apple orchards.

Marie also researched their family and uncovered a wealth of genealogical research. While this did not interest Carl, readers will be interested to learn that Marie's aunt, Anita Brenner, was also a writer, an art critic who was integral to bringing Mexican art to prominence in the 1930s. No matter how successful she was in her career, her older brother, Marie and Carl's father, never approved of her. His letters to his sister have exactly the same negative tones of judgment and disapproval as Carl's letters to Marie.
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Format: Hardcover
This is writer Marie Brenner's intimate memoir about her brother and their incredibly complex and fraught relationship. I find myself overwhelmed with admiration for Ms Brenner, not only for accomplishing the sheer task of getting this book down, laden as it is with generations of family history and scientific and psychological research, but also for the intense struggle she documents as she attempted to forge some kind of common ground, an essential connection, with her very strange sibling.
As the title suggests, Ms Brenner and her brother, Carl, are not at all alike. Chalk and cheese, in fact.
She's an investigative journalist, highly intelligent, happy and successful. He is similarly smart and successful, but also anal and controlling, a cold fish who sends his sister a tray of fruit from his orchards every year with a note that says: 'I picked them myself. Don't give them away.'
A right-wing lawyer from Texas who has in his mid-life moved into growing apples in a big way in Washington State, he has always kept his younger, more lefty, liberal-intellectual sister at more than arm's length. It seems he has no love for her, and his attitude towards her and her smart, New York life is obnoxious and condescending. And really weird. 'You always have to show off and tell us what you know, Carl said.'
Anyone of us in the same boat, faced with such a dour character and such direct put-downs, would be forgiven for turning our back on him. Yet she doesn't cast him off as a bad egg or a black sheep, but instead, when she discovers he has cancer, she puts her life on hold and moves across the country to go into bat for him, hoping to find a way to save his life, and also to spend their last few months together and fix what ails them both.
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Format: Hardcover
Either there are more memoirs being published today or my eye has become better attuned to picking them from the stacks and stacks of new books I am exposed to every month. But, while there may be more memoir choices than ever before, finding an honestly written one is still the challenge. And why anyone would want to waste time on memoirs that are less than honest is beyond me.

Marie Brenner's Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found is definitely one of the honest ones. In fact, in its frank discussion of family relationships it reminds me of Mary Gordon's Circling My Mother: A Memoir, perhaps the bluntest, most honest, memoir I have ever read. Neither of these books could have been easy for their authors to write.

The title of Brenner's book is an apt description of the relationship she had with her only sibling, Carl, for so many years. Marie and her older brother simply could not have been more different from one another. Carl, a loner who seems to have been a conservative almost from birth, joined the John Birch Society at age thirteen in their hometown of San Antonio, Texas. Marie, on the other hand, was outgoing and her politics were the polar opposite of Carl's. As Marie describes it, their childhood relationship was a tension-filled one that continued into adulthood even though they were eventually divided by a geographic distance as wide as the one between their political and social views.

Carl gave up the legal profession at age 40 and became a Washington apple grower. Marie became an investigative journalist and "writer at large" for Vanity Fair in New York City. Carl saw her lifestyle and her political views as stand-ins for everything he hated most in the world and he was never reluctant to remind her of that.
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