Born Brothers

Larry Woiwode, Author
Larry Woiwode, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $19.95 (610p) ISBN 978-0-374-11552-4
Reviewed on: 09/01/1988
Release date: 09/01/1988
First met in Beyond the Bedroom Wall, Jerome and Charles Neumiller are the focus of this monumental novel that conveys the brothers' symbiotic bond and the mixture of love, resentment, competitiveness and protectiveness that distinguishes their relationship. Charles narrates the interlocking segments, moving back and forth in setting, between North Dakota, Illinois amd New York, and in time, from childhood to adult years. Often elliptical and oblique, and initially somewhat confusing, the vignettes gain strength and resonance as they cumulatively depict the events of the brothers' lives. Woiwode is adept at evoking the early impressions, misapprehensions and fears of childhood, as well as its tender or exciting moments; the sexual stirrings, small triumphs and humiliations of adolescence; the subtle undercurrents of family life. His language pulses with energy and stinging images. Some long scenes could stand on their own: a fire that threatens to engulf a small town; stunned relatives coming together in grief when the boys' mother dies; a car accident that unrolls in agonizing slow motion. The narrative coalesces into a composite, many-dimensioned portrait that chronicles other milestones in the Neumillers' lives. While Jerome achieves a stable marriage and professional success as a physician, for Charles, after early promise as a radio personality, there is a downward spiral of drugs and alcohol, marital breakup, a suicide attempt. The story is permeated with references to the family's Catholic faith, once a source of strength to Charles, but increasingly of elusive comfort as a disappointment and despair threaten to overwhelm him. Although the accretion of its many scenes add to the power of this novel, there are times when Woiwode seems self-indulgent in his inclusion of material. Despite the occasional slackening of dramatic momentum, however, most readers will be willingly drawn into the narrative as Woiwode explores the mysterious patterns of human existence. (August)
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