Actor Keaton (Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty) focuses on her complex relationship with her mentally ill younger brother in this resonant and melancholy family memoir. Keaton admits that she saw her brother, Randy, as a burden when they were kids growing up in Southern California: “He was a nuisance, a scaredy-cat, and a crybaby.” As she got older, “he became an absent presence. I avoided him as my life got busier while his got smaller and more difficult.” Throughout, Keaton shares details of her career (filmmakers Woody Allen and Nancy Meyers, among others, get mentions), but the focus is on Randy, an alcoholic plagued by sadomasochistic fantasies about women, and whose escalating instability—vividly described here (in a letter to Keaton, Randy writes, “When I thought about sex it was always with a knife”)—affected Keaton, her parents, and her two sisters. The author, who became “the family documentarian” after her mother’s death in 2008, utilizes family letters and journals to enhance the narrative, which follows Randy as he unravels and turns into a “Boo Radley character.” Keaton talks about the complexities of loving a brother she never quite knew; of watching him become consumed by alcohol, then falling into the grip of dementia “in the process of dying”; and of wishing she had done more to help him (“I want to have another chance at being a better sister”). This slim but weighty book stands as a haunting meditation on mortality, sibling love, mental illness, and regret. (Feb.)
With prose as quirky and affecting as her on-screen personas, Diane Keaton’s third memoir is the most wrenching yet as she tries to understand how her beloved younger brother Randy became a troubled recluse who lives ‘on the other side of normal.’”
“Candid . . . A raw, often difficult read—Keaton doesn’t shy from sharing just how troubled a life [her brother] Randy led. She turns to her mother’s family archive, as well as Randy’s own extensive writings to try to make sense of her brother. In clean, piercing prose, Keaton examines midcentury American family dynamics and gender roles; she’s also honest about her own ambitions and how convenient it was to allow them to put distance between her and her family’s problems. ‘I want to have another chance at being a better sister,’ Keaton writes in the book’s final pages, and she’s embracing what time she and Randy have left to do just that.”
—Barbara VanDenburgh, USA Today
“Brother & Sister tenderly traces Keaton’s evolving relationship with her younger brother: a new book worth paying attention to.”
—David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
“A deeply personal portrait of Diane Keaton’s family; also a beautiful look at the bonds and barriers of siblinghood.”
—Katie Yee, Lit Hub
“Fascinating . . . Brother & Sister is tough-minded, unvarnished and, finally, affecting in the extreme. Keaton had won fame and glory as a movie star even as her [younger] brother was struggling to find his footing—a fact not lost on her. Randy led a troubled life, including a failed marriage, a taste for alcohol and frustrated artistic ambitions. Despite their intermittent interactions, Keaton still holds sympathy for Randy, with whom she has come to have more contact as his health struggles mount. Fitting for a performer who tries to bring to life the lives of others, Keaton continually tries to grasp what makes her brother tick.”
—Peter Tonguette, Columbus Dispatch
“Keaton intimately describes loving and living with a troubled sibling, tracing her childhood with her brother Randy. Illustrating years they spent both together and apart, she showcases the difficulties of loving someone you can never fully understand.”
—Annabel Gutterman, Time
“Immersive and haunting . . . Keaton eloquently and unflinchingly examines her younger brother’s life, drawing from excerpts of his poetry and her mother’s journals and letters . . . A cohesive, honest look at an entire family impacted by a troubled individual, as well as how Keaton maintained a bond with her sibling despite tremendous challenges. A must for Keaton’s fans and for those seeking to comprehend the nuances of sibling and family relationships.”
“A resonant family memoir—a slim but weighty book. Keaton focuses on her complex relationship with her younger brother, whose escalating instability—vividly described—affected Keaton, her parents, and her two sisters. The author, who became the ‘family documentarian’ after her mother’s death, utilizes family letters and journals to enhance the narrative . . . Keaton talks about the complexities of loving a brother she never quite knew; of watching him become consumed by alcohol and then ‘falling into the process of dying’; and of wishing she had done more to help him . . . A haunting meditation on mortality, sibling love, mental illness, and regret.”
“Poignant . . an addition to Keaton’s two previous works of memoir [in which] she strives to understand her troubled younger brother, Randy Hall. She recalls the pair at 5 and 3, sharing a bedroom; in the second part of the book she depicts the siblings sitting quietly, as Keaton holds her ailing brother’s hand. In between these moments of intimacy, Keaton admits to long periods of estrangement from Randy, who ‘took failure and wore it the way Hester Prynne wore her scarlet letter,’ spending an isolated life writing, collaging, drinking, and existing by grace of the support—financial and otherwise—of his parents and sisters . . . Keaton thoughtfully wrestles with her conscience while attempting to assemble a clearer picture of her brother's nature. She sheds her whimsical persona to explore difficult burdens, which those with an unstable sibling will recognize.”
Actress Keaton (Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty) reflects on her relationship with her younger brother, Randy Hall. Early on, Hall exhibited heightened fears and anxieties that were intensified by a father with exacting standards and a mother who found it difficult to acknowledge the scope of her son's complexities. Hall wrote poetry, made collages, but increasingly withdrew—eventually walking out of a job at their father's company, divorcing his wife, descending into alcoholism, and angrily shutting out the world. In an effort to seek understanding of his struggles, Keaton eloquently and unflinchingly examines her brother's life, drawing from excerpts of his poetry and her mother's journals and letters in an attempt to find answers to her questions. The result is a cohesive, honest look at an entire family impacted by a troubled individual, as well as how Keaton maintained a bond with her sibling despite tremendous challenges. VERDICT Immersive and haunting, this is a must for Keaton's fans and for those seeking to comprehend the nuances of sibling and family relationships.—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ
In this melancholic addition to Keaton's two previous works of memoir (Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty, 2014, etc.), she strives to understand her troubled younger brother.
Two poignant passages bookend the author's brief account of her relationship with her brother, Randy Hall. In the first, she recalls the pair at 5 and 3, sharing a bedroom in their Southern California home, Keaton "glancing down from my top-bunk apartment in the sky and seeing Randy's anxious bobbing head, his fear of the dark, and his sweet if hapless face….Why couldn't he stop seeing ghosts lurking in shadows that weren't there?" The second depicts the siblings, now in their 70s, sitting quietly as Keaton holds her ailing brother's hand and strokes his hair during a visit to his nursing home. In between these moments of intimacy, Keaton admits to long periods of estrangement from her sensitive, self-destructive, alcoholic brother, who "took failure and wore it the way Hester Pryne wore her scarlet letter," spending an isolated life writing, collaging, drinking, and existing by grace of the support—financial and otherwise—of his parents and sisters. While never completely free of worry or involvement, the author discloses that "while I was playing the firebrand Louise Bryant [in the film Reds], he'd attempted to gas himself in the garage….I told myself I didn't have time to linger on my family's problems, and certainly not Randy's." Keaton thoughtfully wrestles with her guilty conscience while attempting to assemble a clearer picture of her brother's nature. To do so, she relies heavily on excerpts from his poems, prose, and letters and those of family members. Yet Hall—described variously as "a schizoid personality" by a doctor, an "Almost Artist" by Keaton, and a "genius" by his idealizing mother—remains inscrutable and difficult to sympathize with.
Keaton sheds her whimsical persona to explore difficult burdens that those with an unstable sibling will recognize.