Brothers K, The

by David James Duncan

Paperback, 1993




Bantam (1993), 736 pages


This touching, uplifting novel spans decades of loyalty, anger, regret, and love in the lives of the Chance family. Here there is a father whose dreams of glory on a baseball field are shattered by a mill accident, a mother who clings obsessively to a religion as a ward against the darkest hour of her past; and four brothers who come of age during the seismic upheavals of the sixties and who each choose their own way to deal with what the world has become.

User reviews

LibraryThing member john_sunseri
This is probably my favorite book of all time; I've read it a dozen times, and each time I laugh and cry and shake my head in amazement at how wonderful the language flows, how real the characters are, how the thing moves at the pace of life.

The story of Hugh Chance and his family is a rich stew, flavored with humor and pain and love, with a few dashes of baseball and war and religion and science. 'The Brothers K' shows what it is to be human; it spans the spectrum of our existence through the brothers Everett, Peter and Irwin and the different ways they endure the sixties, Vietnam, their roiling, painful, wonderful family, their women, their philosophies, their lives. Writing this makes me want to pick it up again and savor it like a fine pinor noir...… (more)
LibraryThing member asphaltjunkie
This is among the top five books on my favourites list. It is a genius study of family and post-war America over the course of about thirty years that has at its core baseball, religion, baseball as a religion, literature, war and peace. A friend gave me my copy of this book and said, "if ever a book was written specifically for you, this is it." She couldn't have been more right. It has by far the funniest passage about Sunday school I've ever read. I can't begin to explain, but it involves felt angels, Swedes and beatniks. Overall, Duncan's understanding of and ability to write both about the humourous and heartbreaking aspects of life and familial relations makes this book well worth reading.

"Joy to the Wordl! The Saviour Resigns!"
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LibraryThing member heaward
I loved this book! The thing is, I might never have stuck to it and read it if it hadn't been chosen for a book group.

It's the story of a family with six children—four brothers and two younger sisters—and their minor league pitcher/millworker father and strongly Adventist mother. Kincaid, the youngest brother narrates through the decades, but the text also includes a school essay, letters, poems, and sections from other siblings' perspectives. They grow up in Camas, WA, near my old stomping grounds, so I especially liked the geographical and other NW references. You get to know and care about the characters, so it's hard to take what life throws at them—I cried several times—but it's hopeful in the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member clfisha
A book so full of life it almost bursts out of its 650 pages. It's a story about the 8 wildly different members of the Chance family and it’s a huge discussion on faith. Oh and politics and love and war. It has the darkness of insanity and abuse and the lightness of hope and friendship. It follows a variety of wildly different coming of age stories. It spans continents and lasts decades. It is so self aware it will stop you in your tracks. It will bring you to anger, make you chuckle and force a tear down your cheek. It masquerades as story of baseball but turns out to be about life. When I say Epic, I am not lying.

Narrated by the observant, quiet and honest Kincaid, number 4 in the family. The 1st third of the book provides snapshots of events, a memorable day spent with dad or a dull (but funny) morning in Sunday school. Engaging if bitty but still an enjoyable build up, providing glimpses of the whole story before slowly coalescing into a magical whole. It truly becomes hard to put down and even harder to stop thinking about.

The characters are all so different, the fervent fundamentalist mother, the ascetic Buddhist brother, the son who goes to war, the son who runs. Yet it never feels that contrived or stereotyped just interesting. This is down to the writing of course, it is beautifully and cleverly written. I could easily double the length of the review talking about the style and the plotting: the way he intercuts POVs or intersperses the commentary with essays/letters. I could spend hours looking for quotes.. still here's just the one to wet your appetite as Kincaid watches his father practice after the operation

"There is a part of me that wants to state flat out that I learned more in the hedge about the defiance of dullness and career death, about the glory hidden in defeat, about the amazing inner capacities of a straightforward no-frills man—even a man stripped of hope—than I've learned anywhere since."

Highly recommended, I cannot think of anyone who would hate it.. well maybe those with short attention spans.
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LibraryThing member Griff
The Brothers K is a great read. Family, baseball, religion, politics, and the Viet Nam War make an amazing combination of issues that tear apart and bring back together the Chance family. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member MichelleRose
The pace was slower than what I needed right now. The major themes were religion, baseball and the blending of the two. Love, forgiveness and justification for bizarre behavior were also present and never cease to confound me. Overt selfishness gets old fast, but what about the argument that we are all essentially selfish and the act of being selfless makes us feel good so is, therefore, selfish. That argument leaves me with no response but a dull sadness. No enlightenment there. No possibility for change.

This story was about a family of 8 living in the Pacific NW - not far from where I live. Comfort and security for the mother is found in her Adventist faith. Comfort and security for the father is found in baseball - specifically pitching. This is where the book gets it's title - K is the symbol for "strike out swinging". Optimism in failure - hmmm? Each of the 4 boys had a theme that slowly worked itself out in a beautifully written way.

For Kincade, the story had to do with his mother and their relationship. When you don't understand what drives a certain kind of devotion, it can install a wedge between people and keep them separate - infuriatingly visible, but not reachable. There is a place where Kincade describes a kind of giving up feeling that I really identified with. "I felt at times that she loved me. I also felt, almost constantly, that she disliked me. And I was satisfied to reciprocate. It damaged us. But that's the way it was."

The family struggled to stay close - to find the common ground that they could share together. The person who was best at this was Irwin. He could pass easily, without harming anyone, between the areas of faith and sports. He had a great love of life and everything in it. His ability to love was huge and infectious and very likable. This created a kind of doom around him because anyone who is witnessing a story understands that bad things happen to the kind, happy, innocent guy. Vietnam happened to Irwin and it was pretty bad. The family rallied around him in a rescue mission that was heartening.

Everett, the oldest boy, waged a battle for individual authenticity. He developed a hunger and need for a crowd of people who would feed his image as a wise, witty truth teller. It was mostly bullshit - the stuff of bumper stickers. I see these people in very liberal Portland, OR and having already been acquainted with this smug crowd pleaser, I was happy to see him come to his senses and finally become his real self.

Peter was the second to the oldest and just as obsessed with spirituality as his mother, but not the Adventist kind. This was a deal breaker for them that was almost permanent. As soon as he was able, he left home for school working his brain as hard as he could, seeking enlightenment. His struggle was hard to define, but it was finally put this way, "Some long-lived insidious problems simply slip us off to one side of ourselves. Some gently rob us of just enough energy or faith so that days which once took place on a horizontal plane become an endless series of uphill slogs." I get that. Hard.

I enjoyed this book - I will probably reflect back on images of hope, love, maturation and that terrible sense of unhinged freedom that settles after a screaming family freakout.
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LibraryThing member Patrick311
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member FloraAshley
Stunning. I loved every word.
LibraryThing member dreamreader
Throughout the three weeks I spent with David James Duncan's Chase family, I found myself emailing quotes from The Brothers K and recommending this book to friends and business colleagues alike. Though written in 1992, it feels so like today in its approach to religious fanaticism, war, and politics. It's time for this book to enjoy a much deserved revival. By turns hilarious and heart-wrenching, often philosphical and meandering to distraction, one finds at conclusion that it was all there for a reason. The paths that wind through baseball, religion, politics, and family relationships all converge into a most satisying whole. Truly one of the most thoroughly enjoyable reads of my life.… (more)
LibraryThing member karinehart
Wonderful! A driving story of family relationships, life dreams, love and friendship. One of my favorite books of all time - You'll love it, but don't forget the kleenex!
LibraryThing member Gwendydd
A truly delightful read. I literally laughed out loud and cried throughout the book. It's a very interesting examination of what is important to people (baseball, religion, family), and how that can divide or unite a family.
LibraryThing member FolkeB
No this is not the Russian novel. This is, in my mind, the best book by one of the American West's best writers. A story about baseball, Oregon, Vietnam, Hippies, India, but most of all family. This is a great , funny, and inspirational story about growing up and learning that nothing is more important than your family.
LibraryThing member jmccamant
This was the most engaging novel I've read in years. It was laugh-out-loud funny, it moved me to tears, and it moved me to write a little review on this website, something few books can claim. The New York Times Book Review said, "The pages of The Brothers K sparkle," and I think that's a wonderful description. If you have even the tiniest appreciation of baseball as a metaphor for life you will enjoy this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member CassieLM
At first it seems like this book is about baseball, and a baseball family. It's not. There is quite a lot of baseball talk (and I'll admit I skimmed over a few pages and paragraphs of baseball stats because I'm not interested nor do I really understand the game), but ultimately this book is very much about family and about faith. It's beautifully written, the characters are relatable and complex. What I loved most about it, I think, is the way faith (in God, Buddha, baseball, science, whatever) does to the family around which the novel revolves. It was a joy to read.… (more)
LibraryThing member nmele
This is the first of David James Duncan's books I read--I finally read it when I realized it wasn't some tacky rip-off of Dostoevsky. What it is is a family saga, a baseball story, a tale of the Northwest. Like "The River Why", the other novel by Duncan I've read, it is also about love. I don't understand why he is not up for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Really.… (more)
LibraryThing member Luli81
It may be different for other people, but we in our green youth have to settle the eternal questions first.
Ivan to Alyosha Karamazov

Let'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 this sublime 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
Not 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.
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LibraryThing member charlie68
A very well-written book but my only complaint is that there is so much of it. Multiple themes, multiple story lines lots to keep track of. Follows the Chance family from the forties to the eighties, encompassing baseball, Vietnam and India.
LibraryThing member fieldsli
Engaging with elements of humor, but it occasionally bogged down for me in places.
LibraryThing member kcshankd
A hundred pages in, I nearly chucked this one on the donate pile. I managed to stick with it but am ambivalent about the result.

This sprawling book covers the emergence of a large family in rural Washington, with most of the action occurring in the 60s and 70s. The father is a minor league baseball pitcher, mother a 7th Day Adventist, and the kiddos finding their footing. Some allusions to the other K brothers - Karamazov.

Large sections of this book feel very writerly - long school assignments detailing family history, the obvious Karamazov bits. I was interested enough to finish it, which is worth at least three stars.
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LibraryThing member sixslug
This chronicle of a baseball family’s ups and downs in the ‘50s through the early ‘70s was expansive and (I’ll say it) breathtaking. Papa Chance, the father in this 500 page tome has spawned, a hippie radical, a eastern-studies guru, a thorough narrator, a dense but lovable Adventist and two peculiar twin girls who have worked out a method of killing birds and cleaning up the dead that is a sight to behold. Roger Maris, Vietnam, Religion, it’s all here, folks. Warning: The next book you pick up after reading this (unless it’s freaking brilliant) is going to reek like you just stuck your head in a barrel full of fish heads. Smell the [baseball] glove.… (more)
LibraryThing member Rincey
I think the only reason why this book didn't end up with 5 stars is because in the middle, I started to get bored. My favorite parts of the book were when the setting was in Washington. The parts about Everett in Canada, Irwin in Vietnam, and Peter in India, while informative to where they all ended up, seemed to drag just a bit. I kind of wanted to hit the fast forward button to when they interacted as a family, not when they were isolated in these foreign countries. Otherwise I LOOVVEEED it.… (more)
LibraryThing member larryerick
I promised myself I would keep this simple, that I would state the essence of this book for me and then stop. Thus: The author reaches inside you to grab your heart, plays an intense game of rugby with it, and then makes you happy your heart was able to serve a key role in the endeavor. There was a point where tears came to my eyes just looking at the book cover. Seriously. But, guys, this is me. For everything that is exemplary about this book -- I don't recall ever giving so high a rating to an obviously flawed book -- but it does have its quirks. Some are quite minor, at least to many readers, such as the author throwing out total falsehoods that served no obvious purpose. Example: the incidental mention of an actual elected official at a specific time that wasn't actually elected until several years later. I know. I worked for that newly elected official. (Imagine a fictional book about one of the ongoing Iraq Wars in which a participant writes a letter to President Trump. Got the idea?) My second and more significant complaint is the ending, both the dramatic -- but not at all unexpected -- story that supposedly serves to explain why all the prior drama took place, plus the actual last scene, which is not written in sync with the rest of the book. I know there are folks -- many folks -- that think it sacrilege to state any fault about such a lovable book. If you are one of those people, read the book. It will help you deal with it. If it doesn't, you didn't get the point of the book, IMHO.… (more)
LibraryThing member sraelling
Memorable characters with all of their flaws! Demonstrates the power of love, the tenacity we humans have for others' live and the strength of family.
LibraryThing member memccauley6
This Book. Boy Oh Boy. What to say? The Brothers K. Sheesh. Why ME?
OK. For the first two hundred or so pages it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read… and then it gets lost in the jungles of Vietnam. It’s one of those books where I seriously wonder if it is autobiographical, because each character is so distinct, and the story rings so true… but it doesn’t translate into a good novel.

Remember in the movie Bull Durham when Susan Sarandon said “… the only church that truly feeds the soul is the Church of Baseball.” If you love that, you will love the first half of this book. If you want a book like this – I recommend you try The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella.
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LibraryThing member ProfH
Very interesting and well written--all the more so if you're interested in baseball, Dostoyevski, and the Vietnam War.




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