Read The Brothers K by David James Duncan Online


Duncan took almost 10 years to follow up the publication of his much-praised first novel, The River Why, but this massive second effort is well worth the wait. It is a stunning work: a complex tapestry of family tensions, baseball, politics and religion, by turns hilariously funny and agonizingly sad. Highly inventive formally, the novel is mainly narrated by Kincaid ChancDuncan took almost 10 years to follow up the publication of his much-praised first novel, The River Why, but this massive second effort is well worth the wait. It is a stunning work: a complex tapestry of family tensions, baseball, politics and religion, by turns hilariously funny and agonizingly sad. Highly inventive formally, the novel is mainly narrated by Kincaid Chance, the youngest son in a family of four boys and identical twin girls, the children of Hugh Chance, a discouraged minor-league ballplayer whose once-promising career was curtained by an industrial accident, and his wife Laura, an increasingly fanatical Seventh-Day Adventist. The plot traces the working-out of the family's fate from the beginning of the Eisenhower years through the traumas of Vietnam....

Title : The Brothers K
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780553378498
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 645 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Brothers K Reviews

  • Steve
    2018-12-11 07:55

    With an average rating of 4.40, it’ll be hard to argue that this book is under-appreciated. But that’s precisely what I intend to do. To bolster my case, I’ll be using graphs to display falsely precise measures in an attempt to gain credibility. The real goal (apart from the gimmick) is to highlight the mix of traits this gem of a novel possesses, the combinations of which are rare and enticing. For instance, many books are either strong on plot or strong on character development, but not so many are good at both. In the figure below, note where The Brothers K ends up. Duncan gives us some of the most memorable characters in recent history. Four brothers are front and center, as you might guess. They have younger twin sisters, too, who play more than just bit parts. Their parents have interesting stories, as well, stemming from Papa’s minor league pitching career and his wife’s repeated chugs of Seventh-Day Adventist Kool-Aid. First born, Everett, is quick-witted, sarcastic, irreverent and outspoken. Much of the book was set in the 60’s and early 70’s, the perfect time for one born to be a campus radical. Peter is the contemplative one with a talent for abstraction. His skill on the ball field is somewhat at odds with his bookish mindset and obsession with Eastern religions. Next in line is the biggest of the brothers, Irwin. He’s slow to understand things, but earnest in his beliefs and genuine with his laughs. His loyalty, kindness and good intent could give Christianity a good name. Kade is the youngest brother, and the narrator for much of the book. Ironically, we learn the least about him. He’s the ordinary one against which the extraordinary traits of his brothers stand in contrast – a sort of benchmark, and an unbiased observer.A lot happens to drive this epic family saga. I don’t want to give much away, but there are fall-outs, crushing blows, young love, and moral issues to sort through. In those days, Vietnam was a point of contention, too, as some of you might have heard.Back to my visual aids, you see that I’ve put other books onto the plots, too. They’re meant to provide context. A book doesn’t have to be in the upper right quadrant from me to like it (Angle of Repose and The Martian are prime examples), but it’s a notable accomplishment when one does well in both dimensions. The Art of Fielding may be worth special mention. Not only does it share great characters and baseball as a metaphor, but it was edited by one Michael Pietsch, who is known for having worked with David Foster Wallace on Infinite Jest as well as with the other three-named David of note. In an interview, Duncan mentioned a bond with Wallace, citing a quote by the latter: “Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving…” This shared bravery in the face of perceived sentimentality shows up in The Brothers K.The next plot points to another trait the two Davids share: a willingness to tackle weighty issues. Neither wanted pure gravitas, though, recognizing that humor can not only co-exist with it, but also enhance it. The mature and subtle wit in Duncan’s work was a nice complement, I thought, tickling the same temporal lobe.I’ve only ever read the Classic Comics version of The Brothers Karamazov, but even that pointed to total heaviosity. I can’t speak much to the parallels between the Duncan and Dostoevsky books, aside from the fact that they both featured dissimilar brothers and metaphysical themes. As it is, though, my lack of knowledge about the older work did not lessen my appreciation for the newer one. In the third plot I’m drawing a distinction between feelings (love, pathos, and matters of organs below the brain) versus more cognitive pursuits. The more abstract our thinking becomes, the further it often strays from the gut and/or heart. I thought this novel did well, as it ventured down certain rather philosophical paths, to keep it relevant to our flesh and blood world. Angels on pins were not nearly as important as the better angels we might enlist to make ourselves tolerable. Duncan was no doubt shaped by a boyhood experience with a religious jerk who told him that his hospitalized older brother died because young David hadn’t prayed sincerely enough to prevent it. In an interview he said, “I think a lot of fundamentalists are wounded people whose hurt makes them want the world to be much simpler than it really is. They want something that is absolutely secure, that never waivers, that does not require hard decisions. When you can cling to a dogmatic system, the gray areas disappear.” This statement might seem a little condescending to some, but certainly less so than the too-bad-you’re-going-to-Hell-for-your-wrong-beliefs” world view that those wounded folks promote. Duncan thankfully takes this unkind and narrow-minded brand of religion to task.I like to think I’m one of those people who can handle negativity and bad behavior when a writer presents it honestly. But if the brush stroke is too wide, and the dreck is too pervasive, I often think the author is trying to appeal to a bias we may have in equating cynicism with realism. Granted, when it comes to politicians and televangelists, that view is mostly right. : ) But when it comes to my own circle, I’m not seeing it so much. I think this relates to that non-redemptive irony the Davids discussed. Anyway, a well-positioned book in the upper right of the following plot can be refreshing. The Brothers K gets there by way of imperfect, but striving characters who are reminded by the wise ones among them that respect and love by themselves can make for a pretty good religion. As for the rest of the church experience – the rituals, the rules, and the fellowship – it’s not so different from baseball. I haven’t said anything yet about the writing. It’s a long book, but well-paced; it’s creatively structured, but not to the point of distraction; and it’s semi-literary, but never flouncy. The top-right quadrant in this final plot speaks to its flair and invention in tackling complex issues without being cryptic or obscure. I could keep going in other dimensions, too (e.g., wisdom, breadth, social conscience), but you get the idea. This book excels in so many good ones. Instead, I’m going to close with a quote that I hope gives more color on the kind of applied philosophy you can expect. It’s from daughter Freddy (Winifred), echoing the words of her father. “He said there are two ways for a hitter to get the pitch he wants. The simplest way is not to want any pitch in particular. But the best way, he said--which sounds almost the same, but is really very different--is to want the very pitch you're gonna get. Including the one you can handle. But also the one that's gonna strike you out looking.”

  • Summer
    2018-12-13 06:41

    Okay. I have spent a lot of time trying to formulate a persuasive review for this book.I could tell you this: that everyone I've ever recommended it to who has read it has really, really loved it. Many of them have bought extra copies for people they want to recommend it to. Many of them have given this book to their parents, their brothers, and their best friends. I could tell you this: that it is each of my parents' favorite novel as well, and that one of my most deeply imprinted memories of them as a couple is of them reading this book aloud to each other and often laughing loudly or weeping. At the time, I was overwhelmed and almost scared of the emotion that this book seemed to bring to the surface. After I read it, I understood all of those emotions inside and out and they didn't scare me anymore. They just made me feel more alive.I could say that it is my choice for the 'Great American Novel.' I could point out that if you scroll through the reviews for this book on goodreads, they are overwhelmingly four or five stars and often use words like 'favorite', 'best', and 'perfect.' I could tell you that my cat is named after a character in this book. I could talk about how I love it when books are ostensibly 'about' something you have little to no interest in whatsoever but you love the book so much anyway, and you love the thing too, because the characters do. In this case it's baseball. I used to recommend this book even more to people I knew loved baseball, but on my recent third re-reading of it I have to say I don't think it matters. You will love (love love love love love) baseball while you are reading this book, whether you did before or will after. I don't really know how else to tell you that this book is a book that you should read, that I implore you to read it because I think it will make you happy and enlarge your heart and that you will treasure the time you get to spend with it. Just read it, okay?

  • Dolors
    2018-11-24 04:57

    It may be different for other people, but we in our green youth have to settle the eternal questions first.Ivan to Alyosha KaramazovLet's get clear, The Brothers K struck me out. There are books which tell a story and then there are others, like The Brothers K, whose story resonates deep inside you in response to a call within the remotest nook of your inner being. Either as an iron hand clutching relentlessly at your bowels or as a scorching eruption of pure and unadulterated love, the novel gets into your system, leaving you breathless, exhausted and in a kind of perpetual stunned awe, even afraid of your own thread of thoughts. I was born in the eighties, nearly the date of the last chapter of this novel, and now I am here watching my past generation's dreams disappear. Because thissublime story has given me implacable proof of certain things that my dormant conscience already was aware of. That, whether we like it or not, we all are a product of our generation. And that my own generation comes out shallow, bland, devoid of values and lacking spiritual commitment in comparison to our past generations. The States, the sixties and early seventies. Take the Chance family. Their lives are defined by Wars. The Psalm War, campaigned by Laura, the radically devoted religious mother, tortured in silence by her own particular demons. Her enemy: Satan and her irreverent oldest son Everett.The Baseball War. Baseball, a new religion. Hugh, the ever idolised father, the indisputable source of inspiration. His enemy: his crushed finger and whatever threatening his family unity.The 'Nam War, which tears apart the Chances forever in unfathomable ways. Its enemy: Non existent. And of course, The Brothers K War. Four brothers. Four different, almost opposed, ways to understand the world, four voices to fight injustice, to claim what is right, to make us believe. Wars. Wars. Wars. Either imposed from the outside or inner wars, or both. Wars which threaten to break the ties between each other and bring out the best and the worst in them. But I couldn't help but admire how they planted their singular thoughts, nurtured and watched them grow and stuck to their own formed believes, using them as the only weapons to fight against these ruthless wars:Everett, a natural leader, bigheaded, bigmouthed and bighearted. An genial anarchist who defies the system and rebels against oppression.Peter, with his spiritual balance and outstanding intelligence, searches for answers in the Eastern World, finding his Westernized version of himself on the way. Irwin, the personification of goodness and innocence, still believes in Jesus after the bad joke 'Nam plays on him. Kincaid, the faithful and devoted narrator, his unconditional love the balm which eases the pain of this wounded family, his unselfishness and perseverance keeping them united, his words oozing with overflowing sensitivity and tenderness. But what moved me beyond words was the way these strikingly different voices mingled and danced with each other in apparent discordance. The result, an exquisite piece of music similar to Beethoven's String Quartet, Opus 131, which at heart I believe to be an optimistic masterpiece despite its distressing fugue and march to death closure. And how in Duncan's novel, I also identify something hopeful, something that feels eternal, immortal, divine...otherworldly in the way he shows us the long, unfolding paths these brothers follow and the way they are ready to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, giving example of what's the true meaning of courage, honor and ultimately, of love.I know all these rambling thoughts might sound stereotypical, but believe me, they are not.This novel has changed my perspective in every possible way, some of its details will always stay with me and either blurred by unshed tears or repressed by fits of laughter, I'm taking memorable souvenirs from this epic journey; although now that I am back home and have time to cherish these new mementos I realize my own generation still has a lot of growing up to do. We can't afford to be drowsy and dispassionate, to commit the same mistakes over and over again, to be carried away on the wave of this void era. Not when some have sacrificed so much in the past. It's our deed to remember where we come from. And how dear the price of our present was.Embrace the unknown and let yourself be washed away by the intensity and the unsurpassed beauty of this novel. You'll see how your world spins around and everything shines in a new light, even yourself.I lost my religion ages ago, but like Everett, I realize that I have never stopped praying and that, perhaps, that's precisely what keeps all my loose pieces together. And for that, I can only be clumsily grateful.Yet knowing me, my weaknesses, my tedious anger, this tedious darkness, I know I could lose my hold even on you and find some way of flaming out here, and going down, if it weren't you, Tasha.I mean this other you. I refuse to resort to Uppercase here. But you hear me. And I feel you. I mean you, the who or whatever you are, being or nonbeing, that somehow comes to us and somehow consoles us. I don't know your name. I don't understand you. I don't know how to address you. I don't like people who think they do. But it's you alone, I begin to feel, who sends me this woman's love and our baby, and this new hope and stupid gratitude. Now, for those who are still reading and want a real review instead of my incoherent musings, check out Steve's astonishing review.

  • Ted
    2018-12-12 01:49

    Aside from having fictitious siblings (an extra brother, and where in Ivan’s name did those two twin sisters come from) I must admit I enjoyed reading this book, based on my own family. I recognized themes similar to those that so oppressed my actual brothers and me. The references to baseball were enigmatic, but I decided to treat them as if a game of gorodki were being referred to. This helped.Alexei Fyodorovich KaramazovI can’t remember the last time I consumed so many pages of the same book in so few days. Simply dropped most other books being read until I finished these Brothers, every place I stopped just left me hanging until I picked it up again.So, the experience of reading this book was ***** all the way. But now, having finished the read, the memory of that experience has dissipated just a bit. SO - 4 ½. (I do think that the memory of some things experienced grows in wonderment and pleasure, rather than dissipating. But what do I know.)When I tried to find passages to quote for status updates, it was very hard. Not because there was any deficient supply of moving or funny passages, but because they all seemed to be connected in so many different ways, to what had gone before in the story, that, without that context, that which made them stand out wouldn't have been apparent.In another review I recently wrote, I expressed my frustration at figuring out how to review fiction, and particularly how I disliked trying to compose a useful synopsis of a book’s narrative. I’m not even going to bother with that task here.Let’s instead take a look at part of the introductory statement about The Brothers Karamazov in Wiki:… a passionate philosophical novel … that enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality, a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, judgment, and reason …Well damn, that’s pretty close to The Brothers K, except I suppose for the “passionate philosophical” bit. And for sure, it’s a lot more fun than I would suppose Dostoevsky’s novel is (I’ve never read it).Two men playing gorodki, Moscow, USSR, 1935So, Duncan’s book (in which he actually refers to Dostoevsky’s in a few places) has a mother who is an increasingly rabid Christian, and a dad who’s a good deal more uncertain about religion. Of the six children (four boys, two younger twin girls), four have varying measures of unbelief. The kids begin to phase into adulthood at the time of the Vietnam War. Mix in other relatives, some dark stories in the background. It’s no wonder that when the book came out in 1992 it was both popular and quite highly regarded by critics.The book reminded me repeatedly of We Were the Mulvaneys. (And to a lesser extent, thinking about it after I was finished, of East of Eden.) Oates’ book is darker. Both novels feature a father of the family that is probably the main character, with a mother very close behind. Great male and female leading roles for a movie. But while Oates writes of a man consumed by a tragic event, Duncan’s lead figure is more likeable, one who is involved in an industrial accident which destroys his chances at a professional baseball career, but who mostly faces his lower middle class future with fortitude, a good family man, good father who later lives through better times until the Vietnam war in the late 60s knocks him down again (through its effect on his family).Here's a couple reviews by friends which are far more eloquent than this one. - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Previous review: The House of Writers post-post-modernRandom review: Planet of Slums not an uplifting read, but …Next review: Plato's Dialogues a reading sequence?Previous library review: The World As I Found ItNext library review: Invisible Man Ralph Ellison

  • Melki
    2018-12-10 09:53

    This was a very good book - worthy of the highest rating and all the acclaim it has garnered. Though basically the story of a family's struggle to cope with changing times during the turbulent 60s, I don't recall ever reading a work of fiction that better explores the consequences of religious extremism on family life. That's serious subject matter, but the book is actually very funny with several laugh-out-loud moments.The novel features a mother who is a strict Seventh Day Adventist and fanatically devoted to her church. This leads to problems with her husband who worships at the church of baseball - which he compares to regular church by stating "Hell, they even have the same stinking organ music." Together they have six children, but the Waltons, they are not. Thanks partly to the influence of an atheist grandmother, three of the older boys begin to lose their faith. One of them makes reference to his fellow church-goers as "P.O.W.s - prisoners of worship". When the eldest begins his dinner table prayer with "Dear God, if there is one..." the mother has a violent reaction and a family war ensues. The rift continues to grow and has dire consequences when the Vietnam War rears its ugly head. The book had way too much baseball for me to ever call it a "favorite" and there were certain characters I just didn't care about. But as the daughter of an atheist and a Fundamentalist Christian, I found it a very even-handed look at religious strife, compromise and ultimately forgiveness. A family does not have to pray together to stay together.

  • Lubinka Dimitrova
    2018-12-06 03:36

    Sigh... This was one of the most satisfying books I've read this year, and I'm kind of sad now that it ended... It was a wonderful heart-warming, silly, uplifting, depressing, funny, soul-crushing journey in the company of great characters, laugh-out-loud humor, multilayered stories, family love, history, baseball, war, religion, philosophy and 60's era politics. I cannot really express my admiration for the author's ability to show us how deep the love between the members of the Chance family runs, without even having to mention the word "love" itself. I too loved this terribly dysfunctional family, even the matriarch whom I would have liked to slap a time or two. Or three. David James Duncan's writing is utterly engrossing, and I could only smile, when I finished the book - it left me with the same sense one gets when reading by the fireplace, on a winter afternoon in a mountain village, sipping a cup of hot cocoa, while outside the snow silently falls on the trees...PS1 The narrator, Robertson Dean, was one of the best parts of this book. Hats off to you, dear sir, you made this experience even better.PS2 And I know virtually nothing about baseball!

  • Devin Bruce
    2018-11-16 09:03

    The Brothers K is one of the best books I've ever read. This is the deceptively complex story of an American family. A mother, father, four sons, and two daughters, growing up in the 50s and 60s. Their childhoods shaped by the family's two passions: baseball and religion. Their adulthoods shaped by the family's own small bundle of insecurities and conflicts, and the overwhelming nightmare of Vietnam. I'm a Canadian agnostic who doesn't like baseball, and I loved it. The story is brutally honest and unflinchingly real: sprawling, heartbreaking, touching. David James Duncan isn't afraid to show all the sides of the characters, even the ones that if they were real people they'd try to hide from the world. The characters change and grow as the novel goes on, and the story is both epic and personal, just like the story of any family. The way he uses language is remarkable: at times, he effortly strings together words that create a sentence that would be flawed if even one word was replaced by a synonym. I loved The Brothers K and think it should be more readily available, but since it's not, you owe it to yourself to track it down and read it. It's a rewarding experience.

  • meosima
    2018-12-08 03:44

    Okay. I didn't love this book. I wanted to. I'd heard great things. But I didn't. So sue me!I know this is going to sound really lame, but here's the first thing: LOTS of baseball. I mean, I'm not one to usually be bothered when the basic subject matter of a book is something I'm not super interested in. But ... so it is this time around. I felt the book was often bogged down in explanation of the family's history with baseball, the history of baseball in general ... and I just didn't want to hear it. I kept telling Kris (bf) he would love it, since I'm sure all the stats would resonate with him. But alas: not with me.To be more serious, I felt the tempo/writing style of the novel was uneven and not always so pleasing--the main narrator is the younger brother Kincaid, and the majority of the time the POV is first-person limited. The randomly, it would switch to first-person omniscient. Then, there was a random chapter narrated by another brother ... it took me a few pages to figure out the voice was not Kincaid's. Also, there was a weird shift between realism and a pseudo, exaggerated realism (magic realism?) that seemed out of place in this otherwise rolling, "family saga" type novel. Lastly, there's of course the very obvious Brothers Karamazov homage ... I did very much enjoy the four sons exemplifying different ideals/belief systems (or lack thereof) in our modern day, but again, this didn't keep me completely riveted ... I kept thinking, "I should be reading the Brothers Karamazov instead!" What DID I like, you ask? It was fun to read a novel set in Washington State; I enjoyed that the book was set around the divisive time of the Vietnam War; and I enjoyed that the mother was a seventh day Adventist--what a crazy way to be Christian, ya'll.

  • Lisa
    2018-11-23 07:40

    I've read this novel twice, and it only *just* got edged out by The Corrections as my favorite book of all time. Like Franzen's novel, this is one of those mystical "crossover" books -- great fun for both boy and girl readers. But while Franzen's writing is crystalline in quality and psycho-putrid in tone, Duncan's novel is, yes, a masterpiece, both in its style and in its ability to convey emotionally such a wide range of family successes and disappointments. It's some of the most inventive, artful contemporary prose I've ever encountered. I'm amazed that more people haven't read this book. Maybe because it tops out over 500 pages. But I wish it were longer. Did I mention it's a story about a baseball family? Maybe that will offset the length issue . . . not that you intrepid goodreaders are scared by length.My full review is here: []

  • Sidharth Vardhan
    2018-11-17 03:56

    There is a lot of baseball in there - because the father was a baseball player and various developments in his career are closely followed. Later his sons too had failed Baseball careers with high school teams - actually their baseball careers foreshadowed their failures to achieve what they could in life. Besides there are a lot of baseball quotes.There are a lot of literature references too, mostly Russian - the title nods to Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, there are other nods too – a character named after Myshkin from ‘The Idiot’; chapters named ‘The Bland Inquisition’, ‘The shoats from underground’, 'Kwakiutl Karamazov’ etc. Big great authors are often quoted - which is a thing I love, books quoting books.There is also a lot of religion in there; mostly creating friction among characters having different religious opinions – the Bible is the most quoted and misquoted book. Another book often quoted is Budha's biography. The mother is deeply religious Christian and want to force her belief on the children, the later ressist it.There is also a lot of politics in there, mostly focused on U.S.-Vietnam war – and oh! There is that war in there too, mostly destroying and disturbing lives as wars always do. Almost all characters who aren't in army are against war.But above them all, it is story of a family surviving through their differences and problems created by fate, religion, war and their own mistakes as the four brothers live their lives. Their father is a baseball player and the mother is a deeply religious Christian – two things they inherit and lose. From among four brothers – Everett is by nature a rebel; an agnostic and a political protester and loses his way in trying too hard to change the world. Peter is a scholar, the religious one but changes his religion to Buddhism - in his quest for knowledge (he comes to India), he leaves much of his life behind and realizies his mistake only too late. Irwin is a conformist (always a mistake), a real love-them-all type of person – the only one who held on to his mother’s church and which resulted in his doom. The failure of careers of these three brothers is symbolized in the title (‘K’ in baseball stands for “Strike out’)There is a fourth brother and two sisters (twins) as well. I can't share much as the story is spoilable but there is that whole spectrum of characters and the narrative is full of humorous punches - it is a little like a story from a family comedy sop but with realistic characters having realistic issues. Not something I usually look for in books, but it is hugely entertaining. And it covers so many countries - we see characters who have been to US, UK, India, Canada, Vietnam and Russia.

  • Teresa
    2018-12-06 09:46

    It may be different for other people, but we in our green youth have to settle the eternal questions first. (Quote from "The Brothers Karamazov" used to head a chapter in this novel.)I started this book after finishing The Art of Fielding. Not wanting to leave that world, I thought this book would be a good follow-up; and though this novel is an American (especially of the Pacific Northwest) epic, while the other is an American (specifically Midwestern) sliver of time, I was right. Here was another I didn't want to end, one of those books I start reading more slowly near the end because of that, though the ending was completely satisfying.The writing is funny, smart and heartfelt. I laughed; I teared up. Some of the passages may seem extraneous at first, but none of it is; it's impressive how well-structured this novel is.It's been awhile since I read Dostoyevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" but even I could tell the parallels are intentional of course, though not complete of course, (the K in the title is also because of a baseball scoring symbol, as I expected) but that doesn't take away from the originality of the world Duncan has created, though both novels do seem to contain 'everything.'I don't think you need to be a baseball fan to enjoy this book. I'm not a fan of fishing, but those few references also seem intrinsic. The main pleasure is in the dynamics and intricacies of a family of two parents with vastly different ideas (mostly about religion) and their six children: four boys and two sisters (which almost sounds as if I'm describing my family though except for the way the brothers are described in the beginning, I felt no real comparisons) coming of age during the time of the Vietnam War, and the different paths each young man takes due to the war, and the effects each path has on the rest of the family, as a family.This is definitely a book I could reread: it contains so much. And don't feel you need to read The Brothers Karamazov first: you don't.

  • John Lauricella
    2018-11-28 07:40

    The praise that this novel continues to attract mystifies me. Its protracted, rambling narrative about the various members of a wholly uninteresting family felt phony to me from its first word. Only a long list of laudatory reviews kept me reading in the hope that The Brothers K would get better. Every seventy pages or so, it seemed it was getting better and soon would become very good, indeed--at which point the author stumbled-in yet again with a fresh inanity to destroy the mood, the moment, all caring.Many words would be necessary to describe the impatience and frustration caused by this ebb and flow of great expectation and smashed hope. When I say that my mental anguish was close to physical pain, I do not exaggerate. The spirit in which I read to the end might be described as "the fascination of the abomination" (to filch a phrase from Conrad): I needed to know if a novel so long and overwrought by a writer who obviously believed in what he had written (and who just as obviously had worked long & hard to write it) could truly achieve thoroughgoing triviality at a cost of a 600-plus-page meander to its unmemorable end. I am sorry to report that, truly, it did.If the title makes you hopeful for a contemporary American rendition of Dostoyevsky's great and difficult book, abandon that hope. If the tome's thickness and large-ish cast of characters makes you think of Dickens, think again. I do not know if the author was aiming for either effect or whether he adopted one or both of the aforementioned "D"-initialed novelists as a model, only that all such possible intentions & designs are irrelevant in the face of such clumsy storytelling and verbosity.Others have described The Brothers K with encomiums every writer would love to have said of his novel: "touching, uplifting"; "uproariously funny"; "deeply moving"; "beautifully written throughout"; and so on. I wonder if these readers have read the same book I read. Yes, yes, I know: no two readers can read the same novel because they themselves differ from each other. It is also said that no reader reads the same book twice--that it is impossible to do so: having read a book once, the reader is changed in great ways or small and thus brings a new self--a different reader--to his or her second reading. Well, maybe. I have not read The Brothers K a second time since forcing myself through it some 20 years ago, nor do I plan to ("fool me once," etc.), so I will never discover if my perception of it has changed for the better. But I doubt it.I do not know why I take time and trouble to knock down a book that seems much beloved by pretty much everyone who reads it. It is true that I have pondered these criticisms at various moments during the last twenty years. If writing them out finally frees me from them--and erases The Brothers K completely from my memory--the effort is worthwhile. I suspect, however, that I will never forget my frustration with this great mess of a baggy monster--because it could have been really good. If its author had been more canny and in better control of what he was doing and saying, The Brothers K might likely have been in fact what it seems to have become by reputation: a really fine American novel.

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    2018-11-17 01:37

    Short summary right at finishing: This was a wonderful book. I don't even care that it had baseball in it and that sometimes I needed to skim those parts. This novel about a family going through life, in the 1960s in Camas, Washington, and the characters are so vibrant and real I may never forget them. Highly, highly recommended. I'm hoarding quotations after the spoiler cut, but I'm not prepared to fold them into a longer review quite yet.(view spoiler)["Questions don't make you a fisherman. Concentration makes you a fisherman. So practice." (16)"Personally I'm not sure just who or what Christ is. I still pray to Him in a pinch, but I talk to myself in a pinch too - and I'm getting less and less sure there's a difference.... Mama tries to clear up all the confusion by saying that Christ is exactly what the Bible says He is. But what does the Bible say He is? On one page He's a Word, on the next a bridegroom, then He's a boy, then a scapegoat, then a thief in the night... I guess even God, when He's human, has trouble deciding just what He is." (61)"Without halos the whole scene somehow lost its religious feeling and started looking like three Swedes and three beatniks in bathrobes committing suicide together in a sauna." (62)"Millworkers are the people who can't be who they wanted....""He's just a grownup boy, stuck in a body, stuck in a life. And his life isn't working...."(99)"While the trapeze artist is in mid-flip, while the tamer's head is halfway down the lion, while the magician's saw is passing through the lady in the box, even the thickest kid in the audience knows it's no time for questions."(110)"The reason my father did not wax lyrical about warm spring nights or baseball fever was that he wasn't the poet, he was the topic. Papa didn't present the case for baseball, he represented it, and to stand in front of him wondering if the scent of mown grass and plum blossoms made him think of baseball was like asking a bloodstained man with a fly rod and ten dead trout on a stringer if he ever thought about fishing.""Dear God, if You exist..." (169, this whole section)"But the things He said, things like The kingdom of heaven is within you, we believe only by dreaming up a heaven as stupid and boring as our churches. Something truly heavenly, something with mountains higher than St. Helens or Hood and lakes purer and deeper than any on earth - we never look for such things inside us. So when the humps of witchiness come at us, we've got nowhere to go, and just get hurt, or get mad, or pass them on and hurt somebody else. But if you want to stop the witchiness, if you want to put out the fires, you can do it. You can do it if you just remember to crawl, right while you're burning, to drag yourself if that's what it takes, clear up into those mountains inside you, and on down into those cool, pure lakes." (211)"I only know that the one thing, perhaps the only thing we can always be certain of, is that our lives will turn out very differently, and very much more darkly, than most of us ever dream as children." (214)Oh Peter and his learning style. <3 (221-222)"In a head-on collision with Fanatics, the real problem is always the same: how can we possibly behave decently toward people so arrogantly ignorant that they believe, first, that they possess Christ's power to bestow salvation, second, that forcing us to memorize and regurgitate a few of their favorite Bible phrases and attend their church is that salvation, and third, that any discomfort, frustration, anger or disagreement we express in the face of their moronic barrages is due not to their astounding effrontery but to our sinfulness?" (227)"Love really does generate tremendous power. But what the truisms about it fail to add is that the results of that power are almost impossible for human beings to predict or control." (245-6)"I think hell is what we get right here on earth when people trade their spiritual and political values in on spiritual and political threats." (346) (hide spoiler)]

  • Carrie
    2018-12-05 07:42

    9.5 on a 5 point scale. Okay maybe 7 out of 5. Both are ridiculous of course but short of revising nearly every prior rating it's the only way I can think of to signify how extraordinary this book is. Seriously. I've been intentionally tight fisted with my 5-star ratings, reserving them for books I've found exceptionally life-enhancing, knowledge-widening, comprehension-giving, paradigm-challenging, soul-enriching &/or breath-taking.Nevertheless The Brothers K has shattered the 5 star ceiling so thoroughly there's not a trace of debris to suggest it ever existed. Hence 7 points. No, 7.5 surely. I'll leave elucidating comments about the book itself to reviewers better able than I to discern & describe nuances in theme, tone, character development, point of view, etc. Just assume I agree with the positive things everybody else says and I wish I were able to say it half as well. One last note in this it's-all-about-me review. Because of The Brothers K I am about to do something I've never done before. I am returning immediately to page one. Riches!

  • Gloria
    2018-11-21 04:40

    Sometimes I don't even want to review a book.You know how it is. You read it. You think, "Eh. That was okay, or pretty good-- or yes, I liked it but I have nothing more to say on the subject."I'm hesitant to write a review for this book.But for none of the reasons listed above.My fear is that any words I attempt to use will only detract from the beauty of Mr. Duncan's already flawless prose-- which, in my opinion, should speak only for itself.My friend Les said he's never been able to give a definitive answer to the "What's your favorite book" question, simply because there are too many from which to choose....until he read this.I'm joining his camp.I've never been so moved as I have by this story-- these characters.Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go and see if the Brewers are playing today...(for those of you who know me well enough to know where my sports fanaticism usually lies, that speaks volumes all by itself).

  • James Murphy
    2018-12-06 09:58

    Remember what it feels like to fall in love? Better, remember how exciting was the immersion into the love of this novel or that novel when you were younger? Remember falling in love with Siddartha? Or with Even Cowgirls Get the Blues? Remember how exciting the first read of Catch-22 was, or Gravity's Rainbow? To read The Brothers K is to experience all that again, and to be younger. It's a novel to love. It's one to remember fondly and to bask in having read it. About halfway through I began to wonder where this novel had been all my life.Duncan has written a kind of symphony. It's that grand in scope and that impressive in the diverse prose styles and voices he uses to tell his story. That story is a family saga encompassing love, family, war, religion, the current events of the Vietnam Era, and, yes, baseball. It's ultimately wise in what it has to say about those things and more. I was impressed with the author's prose style. I loved its zip and zing, the most energetic verbal knuckleballs I've read in a while. But also because in such a big novel, the control he maintains over the vast panorama of family history, and in each of the individual episodes making up the rosary of the Chance family. Duncan says the decades of his family with beauty and devotion.It's a little bit of a riff. Take a step to the left of The Brothers Karamazov and there you are in Camas, Washington with what Kincaid, the youngest of the 4 brothers, calls an 8-way tangle of parents, twin sisters and brothers. Each of the brothers--Everett, Peter, Irwin, and Kincaid--whose story this is, along with the father's, exhibit the same general characteristics as Dostoyevsky's famous brothers. Plus, the K is an allusion to the baseball scoring notation for a strikeout. Baseball is an important element in the novel.So is religion. Acceptance, though, isn't a foregone conclusion. The Chance family members display many gradations of belief and nonbelief. This character is pious while that family member is a sceptic while yet another tries to find transcendence through Eastern thought. There's something Zen-like about it all and about the relation to baseball, as its fans can appreciate. Krishna is invoked, the story of the 5 brothers of the Mahabharata is alluded to, as is Zen archery, Greek mythology, and Islam. The Christianity of those Chance believers is plumped by the goodness and wisdom of all religions. And religion is plumped by baseball being seen as a path towards a higher consciousness, a way to fill the emptiness of existence. Baseball is a conservatism, but it's a way toward transcendence. Not every Chance believes in God, but they all believe in baseball. It's impressive how Duncan can write a novel about both the power and the meaninglessness of religion, but he does.It's an antiwar novel. The Chance brothers are involved in some of the more visible endeavors of the 60s and 70s: the antiwar movement, service in Vietnam, fleeing to Canada, the search for spirituality in Asia. By refining his characters and narrative in the blast furnace of those tumultuous years of our country's history, Duncan paints a portrait of the times and has much to say about them.Maybe The Brothers K can't be included among the great novels. Maybe it can be. It is true it's a delicious, completely satisfying read. It's ambitious in its scope and the range of its ideas. The very richness and energy of those ideas means you can't hold it all in your head. It asks for thought, reflection. Maybe not great, but a reading experience that will delight you in many ways. It'll also break your heart. Uproariously funny, it'll make you laugh out loud. Sweet and touching, it'll make you wish it were true.

  • Patrick Brown
    2018-12-06 03:48

    What a book. Here's another book with problems, sometimes big problems, involving voice and narrative perspective. And you know what? I didn't care a lick. It's a terrific read, just bravado storytelling. The term page-turner gets thrown around a lot, but this is the real thing, the genuine article. This is the saga of the Chance family (see, Duncan lays it on pretty thick everywhere in this book, including the characters' last names), told in detail, from the narrator's earliest childhood memories of sitting on his father's lap while his father reads the sports section, into adulthood. The brothers in question here are Everett, Peter, Irwin, and Kincaid, and by the end of the book, I got to feeling like they were my brothers. There are moments when the book gets a little corny. If there was even a hint of irony in it, I missed it. In fact, I'm tempted to say it's a melodrama. But the truth is that I haven't had this much fun reading a book in a long time, and that includes Tom Drury's The End of Vandalism, which I loved. I can't say that this big mess of a novel is for everyone. I know some people won't be able to get past the occasional technical issues and the sometimes cheesy tone, but those who can will find an amazing story waiting for them. And I haven't read Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, after which, I'm assuming, this book is fashioned (there are direct references to the Dostoevsky that I'm afraid went sailing right past me. I don't even know what the plot of that book is). So I'm thinking I may have to hunker down with that at some point this summer. But for now, I'm going to read some smaller books.Thanks to Robert for giving me this terrific novel. I owe you another one.

  • Gloria
    2018-11-30 01:54

    The review below (which was written 5 months ago) still is anemic, but for the life of me, I am just way too intimidated to write a review for what remains my favorite novel.I've never had a book toss me between laughter and tears the way this has (literally-- and I am NOT someone prone to histrionics. Seriously).So, the lame review stands.And my adoration of David James Duncan increases with each read.________________________________________Sometimes I don't even want to review a book.You know how it is. You read it. You think, "Eh. That was okay, or pretty good-- or yes, I liked it but I have nothing more to say on the subject."I'm hesitant to write a review for this book.But for none of the reasons listed above.My fear is that any words I attempt to use will only detract from the beauty of Mr. Duncan's already flawless prose-- which, in my opinion, should speak only for itself.My friend Les said he's never been able to give a definitive answer to the "What's your favorite book" question, simply because there are too many from which to choose....until he read this.I'm joining his camp.I've never been so moved as I have by this story-- these characters.Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go and see if the Brewers are playing today...(for those of you who know me well enough to know where my sports fanaticism usually lies, that speaks volumes all by itself).

  • Rick Slane
    2018-12-09 09:40

    This is a kind of coming of age plus family saga dealing mainly with the years 1950-1980, more specifically the writer calls the period from the Kennedy assassination to the Nixon resignation the darkest in modern American History. Someone else said the book is not about baseball but there's baseball in the book. There is also religion & war. I recommend this novel to family members of anyone who grew up in the 1960's United States. The first half is fun to read but as the brothers near adulthood complications arise making the reading a bit more tedious. Perservering readers will be richly rewarded.

  • Christopher
    2018-11-22 09:43

    Another reaffirmation of why I love novels, especially LONG novels with richly drawn characters that I feel I KNOW. I FEEL them. As crazy as this may sound, I found myself wanting to spend more time with them than, well, you know...But then, this isn't so crazy. This is the reason we read literature, so that we can immerse ourselves and experience their lives as if they are real. The Chance family IS real to me. There is a beautiful balance between the tragic and the triumphant. It brought to mind the same extremities of life I experienced when reading Cutting for Stone, or A Prayer for Owen Meany. LOVED this book.

  • Liza Fireman
    2018-11-17 02:35

    One of the best books that I have ever read! And as such, it is very hard to describe. Basically, I just want to say: "Read this book, it is so awesome. It deserves 6 stars out of 5". This book excels on so many dimensions - it is not a story, it is a life story, an enchanting one, and it will make you shed tears, and laugh out loud, and fill with anger, and awe, and your heart will wrench and expand, back and forth. The Brothers K is brilliant. It is also very long, but it is flying (too quickly). You are going to love each one of the four brothers, which are described masterfully, so you can get connected to all of them, from the agnostic mocking-religion son to the unquestioning very religious one. It sounds impossible, but Duncan had succeeded. Masterpiece, have I mentioned? :)If you have strong positive feelings about religion, you should think twice before reading this book. It rises many hard questions about religion, about social conscience, faith, fanatics, wars, our leaders, and so much more.Personally, I was quite like Everett, the eldest, non-conformist and a rebel, especially about religion. But it is also quite amazing how much more you can achieve coming from a stand of respect instead of just mockery. Some of that comes with maturity though. Like Everett, I grew farther away from religion seeing its ugly sides, its forceful sides (or to be more accurate, of the people who claim to own it), religious coercion, which takes over and loses the beauty and many people and drives them away. Religious extremism can have terrible consequences on family life. It can tear families apart, demolish respect, and destruct relationships, especially when the two parents do not share the same opinion about religion. It is also amazing how much heart and forgiveness can be found within families to fix and rebuild beautiful connections, overcome anything and restore relationships. But even religion comes with many faces. And people with great souls change our views and reduce resistance. Therefore, I loved the rare Adventist Elder Joon. It reminded me that religion can be beautiful, and that faith can come along with questions and sanity. This was part of his story, as he tells it:Joon prayed for days and days. He damaged his knees. He wept with longing. 'Lord! Show me the way!' He cried until his voice left him. And do you know what finally happened? Nothing! Joon grew exhausted, fell asleep, and the Lord showed him nothing!And he also reminds that (almost if not all) religions are quite upside down, but it is much easier to want to be part of it when it comes from the right place. Instead of being forced to it, people would want to come closer if the religion and its messengers would be more welcoming:They had no power, and wanted no power. They told us Bible stories, it is true. But they gave us food and shelter and medicine first, and teased us and told jokes and played with us and loved us. So we begged them for the stories. To summarize, the book deals with very serious subject matters, but does it with the most interesting plot and the most beautiful writing that I could imagine. Give yourself a gift and read this one.If you want to read an amazing review about this book you should read Steve's review.Also, if you want another awesome story, that is closest in style, please read the amazing The Power of One.

  • KatieMc
    2018-12-05 09:44

    So it's fall and I decided to read a baseball themed book. Baseball is one of those sports that is a strange blend of physical, psychological, and zen and I think it makes for a good story backdrop. I had no idea I how fantastic this would be. The Brothers K is the great American novel of the late 20th century that you have never read. What happens when you mix a baseball playing father with a Seventh-day Adventist mother? To start, you get six kids, four brothers and twin sisters. Throw into the mix an atheist grandmother, reconstructive surgery, the Vietnam war and coming of age, and you get a touching, funny, poignant and simply wonderful family story. I have never read "The Brothers Karamazov" so I cannot draw any parallels, I will leave that to the fancy NYT reviewers. I have read Jonathan Franzen, and I did recognize a similarity in the somewhat indulgent characterization and storytelling style. That comparison might be the kiss of death for some readers, but for me it's a definite plus.

  • Bram
    2018-11-19 06:47

    I thought I should go back and say a few words about this book because it is, in fact, the one that brought me back to literature after more than a half decade of languishing in an overly-earnest realm of nonfiction, "real life" only. My brother gave me this baseball-riveted, family demi-epic as a birthday present last year, and thankfully it arrived with a verbal "won't disappoint" label pronounced enough to overcome my fictional apathy. One year later and I'm as obsessed with 19th century Russian lit as Duncan's aptly- (and self-) named Natasha. So The Brothers K did more than simply reignite my literary passion- it focused it in a very specific direction that time has revealed, unequivocally, to be nothing short of blissful. Any novel that can turn a science guy into a Tolstoy fanatic must be pretty special. This one comes with the most unreserved recommendation.

  • Stephanie
    2018-11-14 02:35

    I cannot explain why I loved this book so much except to say that I connected with it on some deep, perhaps subconcious level. This is the only book I've ever read that made me cry, really cry rather than shed a few tears. In fact I bawled nonstop for nearly half an hour towards the end. I confess I remember little about the plot, but I can recommend this book for the beautiful, vivid, unusual, honest writing style. Also the book alternatives between the narratives of each brother, and one comes away feeling deeply for each brother. Finally, this book might appeal to anyone who can relate to disfunctional family dynamics, spiritual questioning, and even Seventh-day Adventism.I lent this book to a friend shortly after reading it and still regret that it was never returned!

  • Jeni
    2018-11-21 07:55

    I feel like I just crossed the finish line of a marathon... I think this is a fine work of fiction, there is much to appreciate. There are also so many descriptions and explanations and words used to do them that it just plain wore me out. I could go on and on, but I'll leave that to the author.

  • Jess
    2018-11-27 02:04

    My boyfriend gave me this book as a birthday gift. I was initially worried I wouldn't like it, thinking of how awful it would be if something he loved wouldn't be something I loved. But even if it weren't about baseball, family, love, and how reason and religion are adversaries whose battles lay bare the fault lines in each (some of my favorite topics), I would love it for how it sprawls into a real world in your mind as you read it so when you close the pages, you miss the characters, just as you miss people you love when they are distant or missing from your life. It's a long story, but one so worth the time unraveling. I feel like writing too much (which I already have) about it will diminish how much it impacted me -- like a best memory you share with someone whose reaction falls short of your hopes. To me, the book is a metaphor for the family and friends I've loved, ultimately. And it reminds me, again, that love is something we feel not for perfect people who fulfill all our hopes and needs -- it's for people who have the bravery to be flawed with us, and who make us feel safe being as flawed. Because love just makes us see each other with better eyes than we have for ourselves alone.

  • Davie Bennett
    2018-12-13 02:59

    I am savoring this, that's for sure. I reached page 200 today, roughly one-third of the way through. It isn't a book that I feel good about reading on a quick trip on the bus or for five minutes while I'm waiting; I want to give it serious attention and devotion when I pick it up. It isn't a difficult or demanding read, per se, but challenges you to be there, in the family, in the moment, in order to be rewarded for your efforts. That's what I think so far, anyway.Last night I read a passage that hit me hard, the passage about the atomic bomb video. The clarity of the description, the weight and immediacy and emotional impact rivaled anything that I've ever read in Delillo. It was awesome, in the truest dictionary sense.One last thought: I'm struck by the sense that I know so much about Everett, Peter, Irwin, and both of the Chance parents, that I have an understanding of who they are and how they are, and yet I know so little about the story's narrator, Kade. It seems like a pretty interesting smash-up of limited first-person P.O.V. and third-person omniscience where somehow the narrator's character and plot get lost in the big family shuffle. Is Kade the least interesting brother, or does he just not enjoy talking about himself? I think that I can relate...

  • Kent Winward
    2018-11-27 09:36

    When I was in college I had a professor talk about the literature that occupied a space on his shelf that he considered, semi-sacred, essentially his literary scriptures that imbued life with meaning and taught one how to live. This book is the kind of book that belongs on that shelf.A review on GoodReads couldn't do the story or the writing justice. First and foremost, this is a great story about the Chance family. Only after you sit with the novel or on re-readings does the literary shadows add emphasis and depths to the fictional family taking the novel into the literary scripture realm. I literally cried, laughed and loved the characters, but even more importantly (and this is rare) I left the book with a much improved and deepened appreciation for my own life and the family around me.

  • Tom
    2018-11-28 04:48

    Alright. Some people like subtle stories that reflect real life and try to tell a story in which not a lot happens. This isn't that. It's the huge, ridiculously ambitious story of the individual members of the Chance family. It chronicles their lives over the course of a couple decades. The characters are amazing. The father is still my favorite character in any book, ever. Ultimately Duncan suceeds in writing a page turner that is also beautifully written, and thought provoking. The first time I read it I actually put it down after 100 pages or so. I'm not sure why, as I think the first 100 pages are great. But this novel builds and builds. I remember reading the last 200 pages in one go, resenting every necessary trip to the bathroom.

  • Katie Parker
    2018-12-15 02:47

    The Brothers K was really good. I may be biased, since it takes place in Washington State, but it was one of the best so-called “great American novels” that I’ve read. (Granted I haven’t read that many of them.) Spanning several years, from 1956 to 1974, the book tells the story of the Chance family of Camas, Washington (where my grandma lives, actually). Hugh, the father, was a burgeoning baseball prodigy before a series of injuries ended his career and he ended up at Crown Z paper mill. He’s married to Laura, an Adventist whose entire world revolves around her religion and her family’s salvation. The two of them have six children: independent and opinionated Everett, philosophical Peter, simple and devout Irwin, our narrator Kincaid, and the twin girls, Bet and Freddy.The plot is less straight-forward, since this is a rather sprawling novel covering so much time, but basically the four brothers follow diverging paths, which take them from Camas to India, Vietnam, and Canada, and back again. Prior to their separate departures, however, the main focus is on their father’s failed baseball career and the consequences it had on the family. Most of the story is told by Kincaid, but there are occasionally letters written by other characters, and my favorite: an essay by Irwin about his father.In summary, read it. It’s long (645 pages), but well-worth the time it requires. I especially recommend it to fellow Washingtonians, and any lovers of baseball.