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Reviews for Brother & Sister

by Diane Keaton

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

In this melancholic addition to Keaton's two previous works of memoir (Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty, 2014, etc.), she strives to understand her troubled younger brother.Two poignant passages bookend the author's brief account of her relationship with her brother, Randy Hall. In the first, she recalls the pair at 5 and 3, sharing a bedroom in their Southern California home, Keaton "glancing down from my top-bunk apartment in the sky and seeing Randy's anxious bobbing head, his fear of the dark, and his sweet if hapless face.Why couldn't he stop seeing ghosts lurking in shadows that weren't there?" The second depicts the siblings, now in their 70s, sitting quietly as Keaton holds her ailing brother's hand and strokes his hair during a visit to his nursing home. In between these moments of intimacy, Keaton admits to long periods of estrangement from her sensitive, self-destructive, alcoholic brother, who "took failure and wore it the way Hester Pryne wore her scarlet letter," spending an isolated life writing, collaging, drinking, and existing by grace of the supportfinancial and otherwiseof his parents and sisters. While never completely free of worry or involvement, the author discloses that "while I was playing the firebrand Louise Bryant [in the film Reds], he'd attempted to gas himself in the garage.I told myself I didn't have time to linger on my family's problems, and certainly not Randy's." Keaton thoughtfully wrestles with her guilty conscience while attempting to assemble a clearer picture of her brother's nature. To do so, she relies heavily on excerpts from his poems, prose, and letters and those of family members. Yet Halldescribed variously as "a schizoid personality" by a doctor, an "Almost Artist" by Keaton, and a "genius" by his idealizing motherremains inscrutable and difficult to sympathize with.Keaton sheds her whimsical persona to explore difficult burdens that those with an unstable sibling will recognize. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Publishers Weekly
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Actor Keaton (Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty) focuses on her complex relationship with her mentally ill younger brother in this resonant and melancholy family memoir. Keaton admits that she saw her brother, Randy, as a burden when they were kids growing up in Southern California: “He was a nuisance, a scaredy-cat, and a crybaby.” As she got older, “he became an absent presence. I avoided him as my life got busier while his got smaller and more difficult.” Throughout, Keaton shares details of her career (filmmakers Woody Allen and Nancy Meyers, among others, get mentions), but the focus is on Randy, an alcoholic plagued by sadomasochistic fantasies about women, and whose escalating instability—vividly described here (in a letter to Keaton, Randy writes, “When I thought about sex it was always with a knife”)—affected Keaton, her parents, and her two sisters. The author, who became “the family documentarian” after her mother’s death in 2008, utilizes family letters and journals to enhance the narrative, which follows Randy as he unravels and turns into a “Boo Radley character.” Keaton talks about the complexities of loving a brother she never quite knew; of watching him become consumed by alcohol, then falling into the grip of dementia “in the process of dying”; and of wishing she had done more to help him (“I want to have another chance at being a better sister”). This slim but weighty book stands as a haunting meditation on mortality, sibling love, mental illness, and regret. (Feb.)


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Actress Keaton (Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty) reflects on her relationship with her younger brother, Randy Hall. Early on, Hall exhibited heightened fears and anxieties that were intensified by a father with exacting standards and a mother who found it difficult to acknowledge the scope of her son's complexities. Hall wrote poetry, made collages, but increasingly withdrew—eventually walking out of a job at their father's company, divorcing his wife, descending into alcoholism, and angrily shutting out the world. In an effort to seek understanding of his struggles, Keaton eloquently and unflinchingly examines her brother's life, drawing from excerpts of his poetry and her mother's journals and letters in an attempt to find answers to her questions. The result is a cohesive, honest look at an entire family impacted by a troubled individual, as well as how Keaton maintained a bond with her sibling despite tremendous challenges. VERDICT Immersive and haunting, this is a must for Keaton's fans and for those seeking to comprehend the nuances of sibling and family relationships.—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ

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