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The Looking Glass Brother: The Preposterous, Moving, Hilarious, and Frequently Terrifying Story of My Gilded Age Long Island Family, My Philandering ... the Homeless Stepbrother Who Shares My Name Hardcover – June 25, 2013

3.9 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The first time Peter von Ziegesar met Peter von Ziegesar, he told his father, “Those are the eyes of a killer. You’re going to have real trouble with this kid later on.” Little Peter, an adorable musical prodigy, didn’t commit murder, but he did become violent as schizophrenia hijacked his life. Arts writer and filmmaker von Ziegesar—Big Peter—had been out of touch with his wandering stepbrother for decades when Little Peter surfaced in New York City just before Big Peter’s first child was born. As Big Peter tried to figure out how to help recalcitrant and homeless Little Peter, he began facing his own fraught past as an “anorexic slacker” in a large, complex, “blended” family. He tells arresting tales of life at Peacock Point, the elaborate Long Island estate established by his wealthy great-grandfather, a close associate of J. P. Morgan’s, where multiple generations dwelt with various degrees of eccentricity, mischief, and suicidal despair. He also traces Little Peter’s trail to prison, rehab, and the “Homeless Hilton” beneath West Side Drive. Von Ziegesar’s cinematic eye and exceptional fluency in diverse perspectives make him an adventurously empathic biographer and audaciously candid memoirist in this piercing, thought-provoking portrait of a many-branched American family and a “looking glass” brother who reflects so many of life’s most plangent mysteries. --Donna Seaman

Review

“Von Ziegesar's cinematic eye and exceptional fluency in diverse perspectives make him an adventurously empathic biographer and audaciously candid memoirist in this piercing, thought-provoking portrait of a many-branched American family and a "looking glass" brother who reflects so many of life's most plangent mysteries.” ―Booklist

“Brotherly love is evident here, while drugs, lavish estates, suicide, divorce, philandering, and the back drop of NYC round out a touching inside view of comfort and homelessness.” ―Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“In a memorable memoir reflecting identity, von Ziegesar tells of his stepbrother's wounds, both psychic and grievously physical, occasionally with fraternal irascibility and more frequently with candid understanding…The talented writer snares readers throughout.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“This provocative looking-glass tale of two nonconformist brothers, one thriving within a nurturing family circle, the other a perpetual outsider because of mental illness, shines with emotional veracity, sensory precision, cosmic absurdity, all kinds of pain and steadfast love.” ―Kansas City Star

“Elegantly constructed and written with both stringency and heart, The Looking Glass Brother fluently braids memories of an ultraprivileged childhood and the bleak realities of mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness today. Von Ziegesar has the gift for creating rounded characters, and the brother of the title comes alive as a figure of compelling, if heartbreaking, paradox, while the portrait of the clueless father is the most vivid of its kind I've read since This Boy's Life.” ―Eli Gottlieb, author of The Boy Who Went Away and The Face Thief

The Looking Glass Brother is an engaging story of loyalty, love and a search for reconciliation between two brothers and an indifferent and often-callous father. Packed with the intimacies of an old-monied family, the story moves between the family's wealthy preserve on Long Island Sound and the grubby drug streets of New York City in the 1990s. It is a candid and personal story that seeks to show and understand the forces that both tear apart and draw together a father and his two sons, even as all three wrestle with their personal demons.” ―Lou Ureneck, author of Backcast: Fatherhood, Fly Fishing and a River Journey Through the Heart of Alaska (National Outdoor Book Award Winner) and Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream and Five Acres in Maine

“There's so much to admire about von Ziegesar's writing. Perhaps most resonant is his unique lyrical voice, both brave and loving as he retells a dark, very personal story.” ―Stephanie LaCava, author of An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (June 25, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312592981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312592981
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,349,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Kinney on April 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A requested gift to my husband, who had mixed feelings about the book. Non-fiction, biographical thoughts and feelings of a brother who becomes the care-taker of his younger step-brother. The younger step-brother has psychological and substance abuse issues. A study of a dysfunctional family.
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By Amy Delon on September 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I don't usually leave book reviews on Amazon, but I'm making an exception here. My husband gave me this book as an anniversary present based on the 5-star review of the previous reader. To my surprise, I later realized that the reviewer, Hali H. Lee, is the author's wife. C'est la vie. What struck me most about the memoir was the editing, or lack thereof. It's a big, shapeless contradictory mess stuffed with lifeless prose. Clumsy, overlong sentences are piled on top of one another as the narrative plods aimlessly on. The style has the appearance of randomly shuffled notes. The premise - a trust fund kid with an odious father and a schizophrenic half-brother (of the same name) goes slumming, becomes a weekend junkie and eventually finds redemption in the embrace of the previous reader. My biggest problem was that the author seems to lack a basic understanding of his experiences. It's as if the facts themselves are supposed to be seen as profound. The author remains aloof from his own actions and from the people in his life. Which made this reader feel as disaffected from the author as the author is from everyone around him. The book has long, dull stretches -in particular, the rather pointless chapter on wedding slides. Description that could have been dispatched in a few lines is allowed to range unsupervised over many pages by the permissive editor. It's as if the author got paid by the word.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I think I liked this book. I know I definitely liked the first half better than the second half.

I read a hard cover book, similar to the picture on this page. The subtitle (The preposterous, moving, hilarious, and frequently terrifying story of my gilded age Long Island family, my philandering father, and the homeless stepbrother who share my name) is not on the book. Not anywhere. Now that I see the subtitle, the book makes a bit more sense. I was reading it off of just the title: The Looking Glass Brother. I had assumed from the title that the book was about the brother. It is not.

This book really is about Big Peter (the author), his family, his family's history, and his stepbrother Little Peter. It is an interesting history, not one that many people can relate to, but that doesn't matter. It's the familial relationships that others can relate to. Both Big Peter and Little Peter long for the love and acceptance of their father (sometimes it's a mother, this story is about the father). Everyone has someone in the family that rubs people the wrong way, seems to be the black sheep, is tolerated by some but not all. Big Peter seems to be the peace maker of the family. He is the one who is tolerant, who negotiates, and mends fences. Little Peter makes life difficult for others because his life is difficult.

What I really liked: the writing. The author is very gifted with words. He is a great storyteller. The details make the story come alive. His love for his stepbrother really comes through, though Little Peter is difficult to love most of the time. I appreciate the effort Big Peter has made in making things right in his family. I also appreciate Big Peter's honesty. He admits a lot in this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I downloaded this book after I read about it in a Newsweek article on mental illness. The author is incredibly honest about his dealings with his mentally ill stepbrother, showing understandable frustration but also amazing compassion. His writing about his brother and also his own interesting upbringing is very insightful. Sometimes it gets a little convoluted but other times it's quite lyrical and transportive. I wished the book included some of the photographs the author talks about, taken by his friend. I look forward to future works from this author.
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Format: Paperback
My book has a different cover - I must have had another printing? I agree with one of the reviewers I liked the first half much better than the second. The end, had no end - really. I still think the book was definitely worth a read - it certainly is not a bad book as others have suggested. It has to be tough to put together how someone you love, whom you know to be brilliant, is so difficult to understand. I give the older brother a lot of credit. I'm not sure if the copy of the book they show here on Amazon had any pictures, mine had none - I would have loved to have seen the Peacock property and a little bit of the family history he refers to looking at on his slides.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A true story about a boy whose musical talents and high intelligence are sidelined by dysfunctional family situations, drug use, and mental and chemical issues. The book manages to be both heartbreaking and uplifting.
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Format: Hardcover
I agree with Amy Delon 100%. This William Burroughs wannabe has no idea how to shape a narrative. The beginning is more than a bit dull, the middle is unimaginative, and the end is so predictable amoebae on Saturn could probably write better. He is actually an author with little grasp of character beyond a set of endlessly-repeated stereotypes, no gift for storytelling, and a world-view that turns out to be distressingly banal.
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