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Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found


Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found Cover




Chapter 1

We fight at the dinner table.

Stay away from my apple farms, my brother Carl says.

And stay away from the Cascades.

You don’t know anything about apples.

It is a tone that I know well. The mixture of hate and love, rage and need, all scrambled together.

It is not easy for him to breathe. His girlfriend, Frika, is by his side, acting as if everything is as it always has been, as if nothing in the world is the matter. She is oh-so-British, drops her voice at the end of questions, takes on like the queen. She pulls me aside in the kitchen and says, “He is the love of my life and always has been. We have never been happier.” Her cheeks flush like a debutante’s.

Her black lace nightgown hangs on a hook in his bathroom. At night, they stay up late and listen to Parsifal, Wagner’s dark score of the holy fool. Her eyes gleam with pools of longing. She looks at him as if he is Devonshire cream. At the dinner table, she hums a few stanzas from Das Rheingold. “Fricka’s theme!” she says. Her expression says it: Top that.

He eats two helpings of filet, then asks for a second dessert.

Tarte tatin.

Made by the other girlfriend, who was at his house for lunch.

“Heather sure knows how to cook,” he says.

A shadow passes over Frika’s face.

At lunch, Heather demonstrated her pastry-cutting technique. “I always put a crimped leaf on the top for Carl,” she said.

“He is the love of my life,” she said.

There are always apples around him. Women, too. Apple pie. Big, chic antique bowls of wooden apples in all colors: red and gold and striped. Apple ceramics, apple pencils, apple photos. Produce labels framed on the library wall: Gulf Brand Texas Vegetables from the Rio Grande Valley, Empire Builder, Wenatchee District Red Seal Brand. I am an American first, then a Texan, he would say, not understanding he sounded like Augie March. The clues are there, in the grad school classic Augie March, I later realize. “A man’s character is his fate,” Saul Bellow wrote, quoting Heraclitus.

You always have to show off and tell us what you know, Carl said.

“I’ll be in Washington next week,” I say. “I have an interview. I have to close a piece.”

“You promised me,” he says. “You said you would stay away from Washington State. You sat right here and said that you would not go to the Cascades.”

He yells as loudly as I have ever heard him.

“Washington, D.C.,” I shout back.

I have the trait as well.

He glares. I glare. In that glare is the jolt of our connection, the fierceness of our attachment. We stare at each other hard.

“I don’t know what you are so angry about,” he says.

The next morning, he is at his desk when I say good-bye. It’s a bright Texas morning. March 29, 2003. The San Antonio Express-News had a headline the day before: “Deployment. Fort Hood’s 4th Infantry Division Moves Out.” The country is now at war and we are in San Antonio, a city of military bases. Starbucks on Broadway is filled with young army officers from Fort Sam Houston. They wear camouflage clothes and are on their way to Baghdad. “Macchiato skim,” one says.

Fort Sam Houston, the country club of the army, borders the lush suburb of Alamo Heights. It’s an oasis of privilege with a Texas zip code that is used conversationally—“09,” for 78209, the demographic of debutantes and ranch kings, fiesta princesses, new-money Latinos and WASP bankers with Roman numerals after their names, some of which date back to the Battle of the Alamo.

“What do you think of the war?” I ask a woman I went to high school with. “I don’t watch anything depressing,” she says. “I know y’all are concerned about 9/11, but we feel so safe down here.”

Starbucks had a swarm of kids leaving for Iraq, I say when I walk up the stairs of Carl’s house. He has a shredder next to him, and at the moment I arrive, he is filling it with orchard reports, glossy brochures for Procure Fertilizers, invitations for dinners at the McNay Art Museum. I think nothing of this. He is a neat freak who shreds everything that crosses his desk. He has always lined up his pencils and sharpened them just so.

On the wall where he works is a large map of South Africa in the Boer years, framed in antique gold, and several pictures of our grandfather, Isidor, a man of committees and awards, donating his specimen camellia bushes to a worthy cause. It is a mystery to me why Carl has kept a shrine to a relative he did not know. He looks out of large windows with window seats to neat stone houses of 78209 and bright lawns with a sea of bluebonnets in the grass. You know it’s March in Texas when you take to the hill country and see an unending blue mist covering the fields.

Carl’s bloodwork is coming through the fax. He stares at the numbers. He is now a student of the CRP test, which measures inflammation and must read 3 or less; the CEA;  the glutathione test, which is a barometer of the liver; a new one, the CA 19-9, with its Geiger counter to monitor the pancreas; the prothrombin, which tells you about clotting; the remnant lipo test, IDL plus VLDL3.

My CEA is going nuts, he says.

It is just a number, I reply too quickly. These numbers go up and down. You know that.

He’s working with an assistant, a woman I have met through someone at the gym. I pretend, just like Frika, that everything is as it always has been. That I can escape. That my brother is normal. That this time in his life is just a challenge, a euphemism I use all the time. That his condition is “chronic.” Something to be handled. Another euphemism. I am going back to my home in New York City. Just six hours away, I tell myself. We have blown past whatever went on the night before. We always do. Anger is our Prozac. I am trying to train myself to say: I love it when you’re angry! You sound like you did when you were fourteen! Or: Here you go again! That wonderful juicy aliveness! Rage! Instead, I yell back and get stuck in a whirl of fury—what the Buddhists call samsara—the endless repetition of a treadmill, the prison I am in.

You have the best doctors in the country.

I know, he says.

This is manageable, I say.

I love you more than anyone, I say. You are my brother. We are Brenners. Team Carl.

There is no epiphany. There are no final words.

“Don’t leave me,” he says. Tears run down his cheeks. “I am sorry for everything.”

“I will be back in four days,” I say. “Nothing bad is going to happen. There is nothing to worry about.”

“No one ever tells you the truth,” Carl says.

He fills jumbo lawn-and-leaf Hefty bags with files. “House-cleaning,” he says. A copy of the New Testament is on his desk. I see a box marked “Orchard.”

“Father Jesus,” he now says before every meal, “we pray for our troops in Iraq.”

I have a list in the car. Last-minute sources to double-check: Queries from Mary Flynn, the chief of research for the magazine at which I work. Phone calls I must make to Paris in the next twenty-four hours. Phrases to double-check and translate for the text: My notes on a legal pad—“On piege les mecs: Is this the idiom for ‘one sets a trap’?” A review of a Leonardo da Vinci show of drawings at the Met, from The New York Review of Books. I have circled the word “sfumato.” Later, I search it on Wikipedia.


“Sfumato is the Italian term for a painting technique which overlays translucent layers of colour to create perceptions of depth, volume and form. In particular, it refers to the blending of colours or tones so subtly that there is no perceptible transition.”

In Italian, sfumato means “vanished,” with connotations of “smoky,” and is derived from the Italian word fumo, meaning “smoke.” Leonardo described “sfumato” as “without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane.”

I always tell everything I know.

Why are you always interrupting? Carl always says.

I regret everything.

If Carl could speak, what would he say?


Excerpted from Apples and Oranges by Marie Brenner. Copyright © 2008 by Marie Brenner. Published in May 2008 by Sarah Crichton Books, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Product Details

My Brother and Me, Lost and Found
Brenner, Marie
Personal Memoirs
Novelists, American
Editors, Journalists, Publishers
Family Relationships
Novelists, American - 21st century
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
Inlcudes 6 bandw illustrations throughou
8.25 x 5.50 x 1.05 in

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Medical Biographies
Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » Memoirs

Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.50 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374173524 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'Perplexing' was the family euphemism for Brenner's older brother Carl; the less tactful thought him 'unknowable,' 'charm-free' or plain 'weird.' At 13, in San Antonio, Tex., where his father owned a discount store, Carl joined the John Birch Society. At 40, he left his career as a trial lawyer to become an apple farmer in Washington's Cascade Mountains. Brenner (House of Dreams) and he were on barely civil terms, but when he was 55, he was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, glandular cancer, and asked Marie for help. She responded, leaving her family in New York to be with Carl, who rejected conventional treatment, and to follow him as far away as China for 'scorpion patches,' herbs and red meat for 'yang deficit.' The cancer spread quickly; meanwhile, Marie sought to investigate her family's present and past among her father's feuding siblings, including writer Anita Brenner (who became part of Mexico City's art scene that included Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo). And with this research, Brenner courageously and affectingly plumbs the depths of often complex family and sibling relationships." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by , In her exposs of Big Tobacco and Enron, Brenner unveiled the secret networks and simmering malevolence behind the corporate facade. Now the reporter trains her eye on the complexities of her own family dynamics and what makes them stick together.
"Synopsis" by ,




Marie Brenner's extraordinary memoir of sibling rivalry asks a universal question: How can two people from the same family turn out so entirely different? Brenner's brother, Carl, lives in the apple country of Washington State, cultivating his orchards, polishing his guns, and attending church, while Marie, a world-class journalist and bestselling author, leads a sophisticated life among the "New York libs" whom he loathes. His life far from their secular Jewish childhood in Texas was as mysterious to her as their tangled past. In this affecting family saga, Brenner investigates their contentious history and discovers how inspiring it can be to turn a brother into an ally. Honest, funny, and true, Apples and Oranges is a moving story of sibling rivalry and redemption.

"Synopsis" by ,

What is more complicated than the relations between brother and sister?
To discover a brother she hardly knew, Marie Brenner, bestselling author and renowned reporter, leaves behind her life in New York City to reconnect with her ailing sibling. Reconnect is not really the right word, however, because the two have never been compatible. Marie’s brother Carl—yin to her yang, red state to her blue state—lives in Texas and the apple country of Washington State, spending his time cultivating his apple orchards, attending church, and paying NRA dues. Meanwhile, Marie has had a successful career among the “self-important lefties” her brother loathes. In her attempt to care for Carl, the journalist instead finds that health problems can hardly slow down her alpha male brother. The unspoken grudges, the long-harbored frustrations, all of it bubbles up as her brother remains determined to live.

In her exposés of Big Tobacco and the Enron scandal, Brenner unveiled the secret networks and simmering malevolence behind the corporate façade. Now the reporter trains her incisive eye on the complexities of family dynamics.

In the end, Apples and Oranges is a book about reconciliation. Forced to face the faults and follies of their relationship, Brenner learns to speak her brother’s language, and eventually the two are able to break down some of the walls. Apples and Oranges is a fearless look at families and what makes them stick together— for better or for worse.

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