Gina’s Reading: Broken for You

Broken for You by Stephanie KallosI picked up a copy of Kallos’ debut novel on the dual recommendation of Ev at the Bookloft in Great Barrington, MA and Sue Monk Kidd’s endorsement on the cover. This may seem insignificant, but without those two women promising I would be glad I’d read this, I wouldn’t have made it through the first half. Frankly, some of the situations and literary tactics were downright silly.

Starting with Part II, Kallos found her literary legs. I was finally interested in the characters–perhaps because she introduces a couple of folks who were believable–and the story started to make more sense. She also found her hook and finally gave you the piece of information that helped explain quite a bit that was out-of-place in the first half of her novel.

Where Kallos finally made it worth reading the 360 pages was in her weaving the global hurt of the Holocaust with the private hurts of her individual characters and giving a space for cathartic exploration of roads to healing. Not unlike the significance of the art created by her characters being more about the materials than the product–Kallos’ work gains its value, not from the creation of a well-executed novel, but from her exploration of themes that resonate with a searching reader.

Of course, it always helps to have a personal connection to the subject matter in a book. As luck(?) would have it, I’m sitting in my in-laws’ home in the Berkshires surrounded by my Jewish father-in-law’s gorgeous found-object collages. As I prepared to head out to the Bookloft this afternoon for a stack of new recommendations from Ev, this book called back to me.

I’ll leave the analogies for you to discover, but will be thinking lots about histories and family of origin and chosen family and finding a way to make something beautiful out of the tatters of another chapter.

Donald Solomon's Collages

Ned Andrew's father, Donald Solomon, made hundreds of these collages from every type of found object.


Gina’s Reading: Nice to Come Home To

Nice To Come Home To -- Rebecca Flowers

When Ned Andrew and I visit Great Barrington, MA we make a beeline to The Book Loft. We can’t quite put our finger on why this little store some thousand miles away from home calls to us. But it does.

It isn’t like they have books you can’t find elsewhere. In the age of Amazon and Alibris is there such a thing as that? And their staff picks — I tend to agree with Ev — are published online along with links to purchase them without airfare to the Berkshires.

Even so, we manage to buy three times what we can ever pack in our suitcases and make lists of titles to purchase later. It’s like it’s the only book store on Earth. Maybe it’s because I never would have found Rebecca Flowers’ Nice to Come Home To if Ev hadn’t displayed it along with about 40 other delicious titles and handwritten reviews on note cards urging me to buy them all.

You know. That’s probably it. I like going into a book store, talking with folks I’ve enjoyed knowing for years, and being certain that I’m going to walk out with a book or two that I’ll absolutely love. This trip was no different.

I loved this book from the cover to the conclusion.

Seriously–the sweet cover with the pretty dresses and the lovely girl holding the perfectly-engraved sign was a pleasure to carry around. Unfortunately, I finished the book in about a day, so I didn’t get to carry it for long.

The story behind the cover was a delight. Pru and her collection of relatives and friends and more-or-less-than-friends kept me entertained, laughing and crying the entire 230+ pages. The story — set in DC without sounding like a tourist guide — was absolutely believable while also gently transcending my expectations.

Pru’s struggle with well-worn themes such as ticking biological clocks, authentic and fulfilling work, boys, and family were somehow freshened up for this telling. And our protagonist is worthy of that title. She actually grows and changes over the course of the story in meaningful ways and none of it feels pressured or contrived.

Flowers’ writing is flawless — dialogue, situations, and pace. The ending was absolutely satisfying and avoided all of my pet peeves. You know the ones: rushed wrap-ups, sappy happy after miles of sadness, and really bad exposition.

Nice to Come Home To is a truly great book marketed as Chick Lit. I am looking forward to Flowers’ next offering, but I won’t be forgetting this one anytime soon.

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