Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: Brother/Sister by Sean Olin


Brother/Sister by Sean Olin

Pages: 272
Publisher: Penguin Australia
Published: August 2011
IBSN: 9780141338453


How many times do I have to say it? Yes, I see the picture. It’s a body, obviously. It’s a dead body.

You have to understand, I love my brother. I’m scared of him too, but . . . regardless of what he has or hasn’t done, I feel for him, you know.

I don’t care what happens to me, really, I don’t. But Asheley . . . she had nothing to do with any of this.

It’s not like it sounds. He had a good heart. He trusted me. And I always did the best I could to help him.

It’s not her fault. None of it. Okay then. The guy in the photo. I killed him . . . but I had to. I had no choice. Why? That’s complicated. That’ll take a while.

This time their deadbeat alcoholic mother is shipped off to rehab, Will and Asheley feel like they're better off. After her departure, Will wins a golf tournament and Asheley finally starts to fit in. Everything's looking up, so why do they end up interrogated in a murder investigation?

Brother/Sister is told through the dual perspectives of Will and Asheley, their narrations a statement to a policeman asking questions about the mysterious and unexplained dead bodies, a recount of the events leading them to the interrogation room. It was a refreshing style, told from the characters' mouths rather than from inside their head. That they had the capacity to lie to us was intriguing.

Brother/Sister began with a kind of blatant hook; the premise of a dead body and the promise of an explanation. But beyond that the story seemed to drag, with the narration slipping from its personal address to first-person detailing of every tedious moment their lives. The odd references to the interrogator were startling, but served as reminders that the story was indeed going somewhere and heightened anticipation.

The end pulled together all of the seemingly pointless plot threads made me rethink dismissing them all. I almost forgive the drawn out and dull beginning for the surprise realisation that it all amounted to something. What you expected from the very beginning -- the inevitability of future tense -- was contradicted with an decidedly unexpected twist, in the literal last sentence, blink-and-you'll-miss-it quick and read-it-over-several-times unbelievable.

The main appeal of this story was the characters, for their skilfully evoked and distinct voices. For their slow development (or rather, deterioration) and for the slow revelation that they may not be as reliable as their relatable beginning may have you believe. The small and cleverly constructed discrepancies between the siblings' recounts were the the first hint, and they gradually got bigger and less deniable.

I recommend Brother/Sister to fans of Choker (Elizabeth Woods), Entangled (Cat Clark), Tighter (Adele Griffin), and Every You, Every Me (David Levithan). It was an intense and gritty story, well-told. It was boring in places, but you'll be rewarded at the conclusion for sticking with it.