cover image Sister Brother

Sister Brother

Brenda Wineapple. Putnam Publishing Group, $35 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14103-4

Just before WW I, the suffocating brother-sister relationship of the Steins ended in Paris. They never again spoke to each other. Gertrude Stein's gift for self-promotion has largely created her image. Now Wineapple (the biographer of Janet Flanner--Genet) looks behind it. ""It was I who was the genius,"" Gertrude claimed, ""there was no reason for it, but I was, and he was not."" Siblings of German-Jewish ancestry with inherited incomes, Gertrude and Leo Stein showed little motivation to succeed at anything. Leo would drop out of law schol, Gertrude out of medical school. From their teens in Cambridge and Baltimore into their late 30s on the Continent, they remained close, often living together. In France, they collected bohemian friends and avant-garde art while trying to find themselves. Gertrude grew fat and sloppy while bullying her lesbian set; Leo became neurotic and anorexic, his sense of inadequacy growing in proportion to his sister's success. By 1913, her experimental prose built upon repetition and rhythm was already being parodied. Going nowhere when Alice Toklas moved in, Leo moved out of the already famous Paris flat hung with Picassos, Matisses and Renoirs to a cottage in Italy, taking half the pictures. Leo's loyal--but desperate--mistress would follow him. Finally, just before his death in 1947, Leo published the single book on aesthetics by which he would be remembered. The year before, he had heard about Gertrude's death only from a newspaper. Their years together are not inspiring reading, but Wineapple's account evokes their lives as never before. (Apr.)