Compulsively Readable Paperbacks

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Elegies for the Brokenhearted

Elegies for the Brokenhearted

288 pages; W. W. Norton & Company
"We were a family of bad citizens," Mary Murphy, narrator of Elegies for the Brokenhearted explains early on in the compulsively readable novel. "Drunk drivers and tax evaders, people who parked in handicapped spaces and failed to return shopping carts to their collection stands." Told in the second person as a series of elegies to five people who pass through Mary's life, Christie Hodgen deftly sketches characters who are trying (and, more often, failing) to escape the worlds they were born into: dying cities and small towns populated by petty criminals and bitter parents. Mary, it is revealed, becomes so lost in these worlds that she barely speaks aloud, and she remains somewhat mysterious throughout the book. But as she remembers her affectionate uncle, malcontent neighbor, hilarious roommate, informal mentor, and wild, beautiful mother, her voice—caring, respectful, rarely sentimental and occasionally angry—is so consistently engaging that you barely miss her. After all, the most salient lesson from Mary's recollections is that, for better or worse, other people often play as much a role as we do in shaping our own identities.
— Ruth Baron