Starring Diane Keaton as Herself
SISTER ACT Diane Keaton is known for many things: her four-decades-long acting career, her devotion to wide-brimmed hats and her particular brand of light-hearted humor. But there is nothing put-on, evasive or funny about her third book, “Brother & Sister,” which touched down at No. 9 on last week’s hardcover nonfiction best-seller list. In this brave memoir, Keaton takes a long, hard look at her relationship with her younger brother, Randy, whose descent into mental illness parallels her climb to the stratosphere of stardom.
“For many years, when we were young, I saw Randy as an inexplicable burden,” Keaton writes. “He was a nuisance, a scaredy cat and a crybaby. As we got older, he became an absent presence. I avoided him as my life got busier while his got smaller and more difficult.”
“Brother & Sister” includes journal entries, letters, poetry, photos and collages — all contributed from members of the Keaton family, including parents and two younger sisters. Keaton says, “My brother’s been ill for 10 years. He’s slowly lost his ability to speak. I’m the sole possessor of every single collage he ever made, which there are hundreds and hundreds of, and all his writings as well as my mother’s. They were dear souls. They needed to write and express to try to visualize their perception of the world. I just thought, Oh come on, let’s take a deeper look, from my point of view, at my brother.”
This examination was also informed by Keaton’s weekend visits to her brother’s assisted living facility. The two would pick up a snack — she thanks Cherry on Top Frozen Yogurt in the book’s acknowledgments — and then explore the neighborhood either on foot or by car. Once they went to a cemetery, another time to an old California bungalow made of river rock. She says, “He saw these things I didn’t see and put words together in this magical way. I hadn’t been a very attentive sister, moving forward with my next project. It meant a lot to slow down and look around and just be together. The moments you think are ordinary, but they’re not ordinary … you know?”
Keaton doesn’t consider herself a writer — “Not at all, I’m just intrigued by my family, a bunch of outsiders, all banded together” — but she’s glad she got Randy’s story on paper. She says, “I think the hardest part is, he never found his place in the world. He retreated. Too much expectations on the one hand and also his own sensitivity, which was so profound.”