Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
Grove Press, 2004
Fiction; 371 pgs
First Sentence: While the woman sleeps and dreams of all that breaks, come into the house of many rooms.
Reason for Reading: This is my 9th selection for the TBR Challenge, my third selection for the Saturday Review of Books Challenge (whose review by 3M encouraged me to read this one sooner than I might have otherwise), and 1st for the Unread Authors Challenge.
From the Publisher: Broken for You is the story of two women in self-imposed exile whose lives are transformed when their paths intersect. Stephanie Kallos' debut novel is a work of infinite charm, wit and heart. It is also a glorious homage to the beauty of broken things. When we meet septuagenarian Margaret Hughes, she is living alone in a mansion in Seattle with only a massive collection of valuable antiques for company. Enter Wanda Schultz, a young woman with a broken heart who has come west to search for her wayward boyfriend. Both women are guarding dark secrets and have spent many years building up protective armor against the outside world. As their tentative friendship evolves, the armor begins to fall away and Margaret opens her house to the younger woman. This launches a series of unanticipated events, leading Margaret to discover a way to redeem her cursed past, and Wanda to learn the true purpose of her cross-country journey. Both funny and heartbreaking, Broken for You is a testament to the saving graces of surrogate families and shows how far the tiniest repair jobs can go in righting the world's wrongs.
Comments: Settling in at the repair shop to wait for my husband’s car, I admit to not being too enthused about my choice of book for the day. I really was more in the mood for something with a quicker pace, perhaps something more edgy and suspenseful. And yet, from the very beginning, I was drawn into the novel, Broken for You, transported to Seattle, Washington and the home of the elderly Margaret Hughes and swept up in an unconventional and moving story about friendship, redemption, and love.
Stephanie Kallos has written a well-crafted novel that weaves multiple tales, bringing them together in the end in such a way as to make the story even more meaningful. Her cast of colorful characters is at the heart of the story. They are an unlikely bunch brought together by circumstance and chance, each one playing an important role in the life of the other. Margaret is an eccentric elderly woman who has isolated herself for years as a penance for her past. Margaret’s boarder, Wanda comes across as strong and capable and yet her emotional ups and downs reveal a more fragile side to her. Wanda is chasing her past in hopes of finding something that was lost to her so long ago.
Not only are readers introduced to Wanda and Margaret, but also to several other unforgettable characters. There is M.J. Striker, whose own trials mirror both Wanda’s and Margaret’s but in different ways. He has given up so much of actual living as a sort of penance for past sins as he seeks for the one thing that meant most to him all those years before. Then there is Troy who had once traveled a similar path as Wanda, only to find that sometimes the answers you seek are not the answers you most need to find. I cannot leave out Gus, the hotel valet at the Hotel Orléans, where Margaret had honeymooned many years before. His spirit and zest for life was a much-needed addition in Margaret’s life. There is also Susan, the registered nurse, and Bruce the chef, both of whom are healing from broken hearts. And then there is Irma Kosminsky who is perhaps my most favorite character next to Margaret herself. Irma is so full of life and hope. Despite all she’d suffered in her past, losing both her first husband and child during the Holocaust, she had been able to find happiness in the present and encouraged those around her to live life rather than stew in it and let it pass by.
Stephanie Kallos’ takes a risk in varying her narrative as she does, following both Wanda and Margaret and later M.J. Striker, and occasionally switching to the second person slightly reminiscent of Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White only with a different twist. She also adds in dream sequences, which I think enhanced the story, adding more dimension to the characters and the overall effect of the novel.
Broken for You is a work of art all in it’s own. The characters, each of them broken in some way, are brought together the way the pieces used to create mosaic art might be joined together, the result being something of beauty and meaning.
Questions: I would be lying if I said I did not have questions upon finishing the book. There were a couple of characters that were not as fleshed out as the rest, whose story interested me and left me wondering in the end—not so much about their fate, but about the choices they had made. Despite this, I still came away from the book feeling awed and very much satisfied.
Favorite Parts: There are so many! This book was full of wonderful moments. I think perhaps my most favorite scene is near the beginning of the book when Margaret goes to the café and has a conversation with the waitress, otherwise known as the Nose Ring Girl. The reader in me let out a silent cry of glee (I didn’t want to scare the poor guy behind the counter at the shop!). I’m not sure I can adequately explain why—sometimes the “voice” the author uses to tell his or her story resonates inside my mind—it’s a perfect fit, so to speak. It was like this for me with Broken for You, nearly every step of the way.
Another of the scenes that stands out for me was when Margaret coaxes Wanda outside to smash Margaret’s wedding dinner set. It was an insane moment, but one that proved to be what the two women most needed to do in that moment. It was a new beginning for both women.
Near the end of the book, readers are drawn into a dream sequence as Margaret and her Thanksgiving guests go for a hot air balloon ride. The way the scene played out, the richness of the moment and the step back into reality once the dream was over was a very moving and poignant moment in the book.
For more information about the author, check out her website.