by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & Apples & amp; Oranges & r & by Marie Brenner & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & arie Brenner's brother Carl was a perplexing soul. He was generous; he was a control freak. He went off on paranoid political rants; there were women, on the other hand, who adored him. He was a successful attorney; he left the law to raise apples in Wenatchee. He loved fruit -- growing it, analyzing it, chomping on a dozen apples a day so that the juice ran down his chin. He was full of life, had a voracious appetite, and now he's dead. Cancer got him in middle age, just when he and his sister were reconciling after years of aloofness and misunderstanding.
If you've been through a contentious sister/brother relationship -- or even if you just want to know more about Jonagolds and Fujis -- Brenner's memoir may provide insights. "My Brother and Me, Lost and Found," is her subtitle, and Brenner, who wrote the Vanity Fair article that led to the expos & eacute; of Big Tobacco in The Insider, applies her investigative skills to the details of her brother's life. Too much so, she admits: She treats her brother "as a source, someone I have been assigned to interview." They have "dossiers of grievances" against each other; there is, she says, "a moat around our conversations." She was Joan Baez to his John Birch Society.
Brenner's memoir loses steam with her meanderings about growing up Jewish in San Antonio -- many readers would prefer getting back to Carl and his contradictions -- and she jumbles the story's time frames too often. But her wit and psychological acuity shine through. Pateros in the Methow Valley, she writes, "is real farm country, as opposed to farm country where there might be an occasional yoga studio." It's like that all the way to this memoir's touching finale.
The book's endpapers depict Carl's apple orchards in Wenatchee: A hundred thousand trees, still bearing fruit, carrying on Carl Brenner's legacy -- even if his relationship with his little sister ended in a strange blend of anger and affection. The journalist in Marie Brenner wants to know it all, but when it comes to sibling relationships, she says, "Sometimes you do not get to understand everything."