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  • Mandy McHugh

How to Bury Your Brother: Lindsey Rodgers Cook, A Review

I went into this book not knowing what to expect, and I took so much more from it than I could've anticipated. In grad school, I took a semester focusing on Southern women writers, and How to Bury Your Brother felt like coming home.

Alice's life is shaped from the absence of her brother. Leaving without an explanation, Alice is tormented by the unknown cause of his departure--and when he is found dead years later of an apparent overdose, she's convinced she'll never get answers. Or closure. As she's tasked with clearing out her childhood home, Alice stumbles on a series of letters written by her brother and decides to deliver them in the hope of learning about Rob and why he left. What she finds in the process, like my experience with this book, was more than she expected. So many things worked for me. Structurally, Cook's writing was beautiful and crisp. Weaving flashbacks and memories with letters in her present journey could've easily been overwhelming or clunky, but this was an effortless read. I was particularly fond of the mini chapters, crossing off each letter along the journey. It felt like a personal connection with Alice and resonated on an emotional level. It's something I might do myself if I was in Alice's shoes. Along these lines, Alice's character is an excellent example of how the south can shape the life of a woman. Indeed, like many classic southern literary texts, the south is its own character. From the elegant imagery of the environment, to the social etiquette and expectations--and her brief foray in New Orleans where the humidity, food, and events are detailed--the South is a living, breathing being, as much a part of Alice as she is of it. She's troubled about her past, about her relationship with her mother, but she also cherishes these things. The generational connection you see so often in southern literature is also important here. Maura and Alice and Caitlin are strong and independent women facing challenges because of their gender, relationship status, and societal expectations. I really enjoyed the dynamic between them, seeing how each woman grew as a person because of the maternal effect of the south. What elevated the emotion most of all were Alice's complex feelings about her estranged, and later deceased, brother. At one point, she questions the definition of "close," and this was such a powerful moment. Are you close with someone because of proximity? Blood ties? Do you lose a bond because you go decades without speaking? Or is being close with another person reliant on perception alone? As someone who frequently goes weeks without speaking to her younger brothers but still considers them to be two of the most important people in her life, I related to this so much. Distance, time--it changes circumstances, but it doesn't diminish the bond that formed. This makes the conclusion all the more heart-wrenching, and Alice's arc all the more satisfying. This book is perfect for anyone looking for sprawling family sagas, complex family dynamics, and fans of southern women writers. Cook proves you don't need a fast-paced thriller in order to evoke high stakes emotions.

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