Friday, February 6, 2009

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

This novel follows two unlikely acquaintances - Margaret, an older woman recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Wanda, a woman who has just been dumped by her boyfriend and has moved across the country to find him. This is where the two characters intersect - Wanda responds to a boarder ad that Margaret places. The novel goes back in forth between the individual struggles of these two women, along the way introducing more minor characters who nonetheless play major roles in the novels final resolution.

Again, as with Gods In Alabama, this novel comes across, especially in the first few chapters as overly, overtly, dramatic, like when Margaret, moments after learning about her tumor, asks a stranger - a worker at a cafe - what she would do if she only had a short time to live. The girl's reaction is too quickly and calmly philosophical. Also, again, the "fast-paced" action which I am so tired of (it is patronizing - it's almost as if the authors and/or publishers think that modern readers have the attention spans of two-year-olds, not to offend two-year-olds) is too quick, without much (not enough) explored thought from the characters or the narrators, at least none to which the readers are privy.

I'm learning that I prefer character-driven stories as opposed to those that are plot-driven.

At least in the opening chapters, the quirkiness is forced. The opening sequence where Margaret is speaking to her porcelain figurines yet seems otherwise perfectly sane is hard to take. It almost made me want to set the book aside, for good.

Speaking of characters and, yet again, in similarity to Gods in Alabama, a young child (a 2nd grader this time) makes comments I've never heard of a child in the real-world making. Maybe I'm just way off base, but I don't think I am. Thus, the young Wanda is unbelievable, but, alas, the adult Wanda is annoying with her continued emotional outbursts that even I - a person of obvious questionable emotional stability if you've read other parts of my blog - do not have unless under extreme and immediate duress. The characterization of Troy, Wanda's love interest, is, at first, just as forced as the action during the opening chapters.

Some passages are just plain silly, as when Gus, Margaret's love interest, remarks that, upon first seeing Margaret's house/mansion, the phrase "Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your long hair" came to mind. Believe me, within context, it was such a cheesy line I wanted to either laugh or barf. I think I did a little of both.

Remarkably, 'round abouts chapter 4, Kallos seems to develop a deeper sense of her story, things slow down, and we get some really nice and intriguing reading. Certainly when we get to Part 2, which is initially devoted to a new character in the form of Wanda's father, the story becomes notably better, more engaging, more interesting and authentically quirky.

In fact, the book's transformation is so nearly complete from the first three chapters that is a little hard to believe, but this reader at least was glad that, end the end, she stuck it out. It did become a rather worthwhile read, especially when Margaret stopped talking to her figurines and started crashing them instead (you'll have to read it to see what I mean, and I suggest you do).

The way the characters come together in the end smacks a little bit of the blatant structuring and all-too-nicely tied together expected-unexpected stuff at which I turn my nose up, but it wasn't so bad as to not be enjoyed.

A redeemed, suggested read. - 4 stars

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