Friday, January 20, 2012

Breakable You by Brian Morton

This is a rather simple story of people falling apart and trying to put their lives back together.  I'm not sure any of the characters are successful in this endeavor.  For all of the novel's overwrought descriptions of previously described material, wholly unbelievable characters, and general repetition it's very hard to focus on the story.  
After a few decades of marriage Adam Weller, a successful writer, decides to leave his wife Eleanor for a much younger woman.  He willing runs to a younger and more beautiful woman who he knows is using his fame to further her own status.  He also knows that this new woman will leave him sooner than later.  (On an unrelated note, if I just said, "He left his wife for a ho," everyone would have known what I meant without the need to sound semi-formal and use too many words to explain the obvious.  End tangent.)  Maud, their daughter and youngest of three children is on the cusp of finishing her dissertation and getting her Ph. D. when she starts a powerful and bizarre relationship with Samir a man whose past difficulties follow him everyday.  
Adam is an unmitigated, self-serving, bastard and the book's most acceptable character though a minor one.  He has no scruples in breaking up with his wife for the most base reasons or stealing the work of his friend to use for his own end.  Throughout the course of the book he doesn't change or grow and only flirts with development before obstinately sticking to his identity.  Eleanor suffers greatly but does find ways to cope with the unexpected arrival of two new men in her life.  
Maud, the book's main character, is the center of so many problems.  Early on we are told she has suffered two previous 'breakdowns' or 'episodes' but are never told what that means or what they were in relation too.  The references were unnecessary and forced and served to undermine the significance of book's final events as Maud's life hits new undiscovered low points and instead of adding credibility to the way things unfold these premature references to her breakdowns only robbed her real moment collapse of any power it may have had.  
Maud, for all her supposed instability, is smart, focused, on a solid path in life and gorgeous.  She's tall.  She's hot.  She knows it.  Samir is short and rather plain though her mental equal.  A woman such as Maud would never exert half the time or energy in gaining his favor, and that was first strike against her credibility.  Hot chicks don't take rejection well because the world is their oyster.  They certainly don't go to such dire measure to win the attention of a guy who goes out of his way to offend her by giving him random blowjobs in public places just so he might be nice to her.  (Actually, no woman does that…)  Their courtship is short and involves him essentially giving her the finger while she performs oral sex at every possible opportunity.  All of this is done voluntarily.  Sadly, I don't live in this world… 
Samir is only slightly more of an unbelievable nightmare than Maud.  His past is ugly and horribly sad.  Even when we learn of his first marriage and loss of a child and his torment it was hard to accept a man being moved to tears of sadness every time a gorgeous woman offers sexual favors.  Samir is an 'Arab,' a word my Iranian friends assure me is derogatory.  Samir ate pork sausage for breakfast one day so I'm assuming he wasn't a practicing Muslim but there is no 'Arab' ethnicity so I have no clue what Morgan means by using the word but he constantly references Samir's 'Arabness.'  Maud is a Jew, which by the way actually means something.  The implied conflict between the two is empty and feels like the same 'Hail Mary,' desperation, smoke-and-mirrors attempt to conjure conflict as Maud's breakdowns.  
The presentation is highly repetitive and in scenes between Maud and Samir we get to see things in separate chapters through each characters eyes with almost no new meaning added.  The dialogue, while well written is mundane enough to make me question it's inclusion.  People just talk about everyday normal stuff that doesn't do anything to move the story forward.   
Morton also has a nasty habit of drawing attention to his writing, which serves to take the reader out of the story.  "And now all that was over.  Adam had a new muse, or at least a new fuckmate.  She used this term bitterly, for the shock effect, even though she wasn't even speaking it aloud and was shocking no one but herself."  Dare I say--Wait for it…--'shocking?'  Thank you for having your characters explain your though process in writing this passage.  "She was eager to see Samir again and return to their sexual carnival.  That was how she thought of their encounters."  That first sentence was so good I can't believe Morgan couldn't be satisfied and leave it alone!  "They had spent the afternoon on the couch, though, come to think of it, he couldn't quite remember whether they'd actually, technically, made love.  They'd done something, but he couldn't quite remember what."  I don't even know what that means.  Perhaps if we replace 'made love' with 'bad acid trip' I could make sense of this, but when people aren't drugged they definitively know whether or not they 'technically' made love or not.  No matter how pleasant having sex is, it isn't that subtle.  "She wasn't pleased with herself for being so snitty, if that was a word."  No comment… (I can't help it!  ARGH!!! It's not a word and making me question word worthiness doesn't make it okay!)    
There's a baby, there is a meltdown--a character's not my own--there are a couple of deaths, people go their separate ways and try to move on.  There may have been some tangible connection between Maud's slightly self-indulgent philosophy studies with the plots events or character's lives but I couldn't stop rolling my eyes at characters actions to find deeper meaning.  Morton's over reliance on italics in dialogue doesn't help either and eventually any nuance he may have had easily turned into a nuisance. 
There is nothing particularly bad about this book: the writing is solid, even the dialogue is well done if only uninteresting.  The characters perhaps try too hard at everything they do and are incredible to the point of unbelievable but even if you can get over this you have to deal with prose inconsistencies.  You have to take the good with the bad however it's the disparity between the two and the erratic variability of their appearances that make the reading difficult.  I leave you with this:  
"The sky was gray and grave and grim and the river was dull and humped and hunchbacked, yet she found all of it stirring, because the day was anything but bland, but at the same time as she was glorying in it, in the large-souled moodiness of nature, she had to keep glancing down to make sure that she wasn't about to step in dog shit, and she tried not to think of this as a metaphor for the human experience."  pg 231 
I feel bad having re-written that passage; at least I can say it wasn't original to me.  If you have no problems with that paragraph you'll enjoy this book much more than I. 


Maria said...

Bad books make for awesome reviews. This really made me laugh. Thanks!

Chad Hull said...

Is it a movie? I'd get hammered an watch if it were; for many reasons after my reading experience I'd say a movie would be solid entertainment.

I'm already thinking of the cast I would want...