Title: Summer Brother
Author: Jaap Robben
Genre: Literary Fiction
Number of Pages: 222
This book was sad but for some reason it wasn’t as heavy as I expected it to be. The protagonist, Brian, is a thirteen-year-old boy who lives a hardscrabble existence with his ne’er-do-well dad. Brian’s brother, Lucien, is severely developmentally disabled and lives in an institution, until the home undergoes some reservations and Lucien goes to live with Brian and his dad for a while. Brian’s dad, a grade-A asshole, just takes Lucien in for the social security money but Brian begins to bond with him as his dad leaves them alone together for hours at a time.
The narrative pulls no punches in it’s portrayal of Lucien’s disabilities and there’s none of the sentimentality that pervades a lot of these kinds of stories. I was made uncomfortable by the descriptions of Lucien’s genitals and the scene where he masturbates in front of his brother after a shower, but I understood the author’s intent to provide a visceral portrayal of caregiving. Brian is put in a situation he never should have been in and I hated his dad more and more as the story went on.
The main thing I didn’t like about this book was the relationship between Brian and Selma, one of the patients at Lucien’s institution. She was nineteen and he was only thirteen but she was very limited and I felt like he was taking advantage of her. It was very creepy and kept me from liking Brian the way I might have otherwise. Their interactions felt inappropriate and were a damper on an otherwise powerful novel.