Broken for You
"Well, it's a rather trite question, I suppose, but if you found out that you had only a short while to live, maybe a year or two, how would you spend your time?" Upon hearing she has a malignant brain tumor, 75-year-old Margaret Hughes poses this question to a young woman working the counter at a café in BROKEN FOR YOU, the first novel by Stephanie Kallos. The young woman replies that she would do what scares her most --- to do the opposite of what she's always done. Margaret decides that is exactly what she must do. She must challenge herself by opening herself up to people --- no more playing it safe.
She starts by literally opening her palatial Seattle house to boarders. The first one to apply is stage director Wanda Schultz, a diminutive young woman who came to Seattle on the trail of her boyfriend who left her. Despite her hectic schedule at the theater, Wanda is using her spare time trying to track down her runaway boyfriend, convinced that once he sees her he'll want her back. Poor Wanda also harbors resentment towards her parents for abandoning her at such a young age, to live her life in an overcrowded house with her eight cousins. Ignorant of Margaret's condition, she is intrigued to live in such an elaborate and roomy home.
Margaret's mansion is adorned with thousands of beautiful porcelain pieces, most gathered by her late father on trips abroad when she was a child. As part of her reinvention, she decides to jettison some of the pieces --- not by selling them, but through the therapeutic act of breaking them (and further into the book, we learn why Margaret wants to rid herself of these artifacts). After Wanda suffers an unfortunate accident and is rendered housebound, she learns that she is quite adept at not only breaking the pieces superbly but also at gluing them back together, mixing and matching types of clay to form a totally different treasure.
Kallos cleverly uses the metaphor of broken porcelain to represent the wounded people in this novel. Each one is trying to reassemble themselves as best they can, hopefully being reshaped into something better. The characters are real and relatable, and never once succumb to self-pity, no matter what hand life has dealt them. Told in alternating chapters that illuminate the characters as they are now, we also are privy to their back-stories of how they came to be "broken." With such insight into these people, BROKEN FOR YOU ends up being a life-affirming read rather than a depressing one.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on January 7, 2011
Broken for You
- Publication Date: August 23, 2004
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Grove Press
- ISBN-10: 0802117791
- ISBN-13: 9780802117793