Breakable You by Brian Morton is the love stories of a family, a father, mother and their daughter during a particular time in their lives. The stories swing back and forwards between each character. There are some ideas presented in this novel which had not occurred to me before and I enjoyed thinking about them very much.
The father, Adam Weller, is an author in his sixties who hasn’t written anything well received critically for quite some time. His ex-wife, Eleanor, is a psychologist, and their daughter Maud is a student in her late twenties who is regularly bailed out of situations of financial and emotional duress by her parents. The family’s Jewish-ness is a strong theme throughout this book.
For me, Maud was the most likeable character in this book. In many ways, she also has the hardest life of the three main characters, although to say why would be to spoil the plot for other readers. One of the reasons, which is not a spoiler, is that Maud suffers from periodic depression.
Maud meets an Arab American man, Samir, who is in mourning for his dearly loved daughter from his failed marriage. Despite Samir’s emotional barriers and his and Maud’s religious and cultural differences, they persevere and by the middle of the book are on the verge of an amazing relationship. I really wanted these two characters to have a happy ending. As an Australian, my political world view is probably sadly lacking, but it seemed more unlikely that these two would originally have gotten to know each other, let alone fall in love, than almost anyone else on earth. Forgive me if this is obvious to everyone else, but the only comparison I can make is the most unlikely marriage I know of, between a man who barracks for Collingwood and a woman who barracks for Geelong (Australian Rules Football teams). This husband and wife don’t speak to each other the week before their teams play each other except to snipe at each other, and apparently their household is not a happy place the week after a game either, with one crowing about their team’s win and the other partner not speaking. Their sons barrack for Collingwood and the daughters for Geelong. Australian Rules Football is serious business indeed.
To continue in Australian parlance, Adam, Maud’s father, is a wanker. He is selfish, unpleasant and completely immoral, although he is very, very human. Throughout his marriage to Eleanor, Adam had regular affairs and now has a much younger girlfriend, Thea. Adam and Thea are both ambitious and use each other in a number of ways to gain credibility.
The widow of Adam’s oldest friend, a writer who was once in competition with Adam, contacts him after finding an unpublished manuscript belonging to her husband, and Adam’s behaviour in this instance is particularly reprehensible.
Eleanor, Maud’s mother and Adam’s former wife was for me the most frustrating character of the three. Eleanor comes off as a bland woman who has sacrificed too much of herself, and so has completely failed to live up to her potential. As a therapist, she should have had more of a clue.
Eleanor was recently contacted by her first love, Patrick, who she stole from her own sister way back when they were teenagers. Eleanor ditched Patrick at the time for Adam, because he offered her a more exciting life. I can not understand why Eleanor bothered meeting with Patrick again, as she obviously never truly loved him the first time round. Patrick told Eleanor she had always been his true love, but for me, Eleanor seems to have saved all of her passion for being a mother. I kept wishing Eleanor would stop feeling sorry for herself and get out there and live a bit more, instead of wallowing in being the dumped wife or dithering about whether Patrick would think she was fat or not.
There are some really big ideas in Breakable You which made me think about things I never had before. For instance, the idea that the dead don’t care. According to Morton’s character, Adam Weller, when I’m dead, I’m not going to care about anything. I’m not going to give a rat’s tail about what happens to my loved ones, or if my collection of recipes which has given me so much pleasure is thrown into the garbage or if my life’s work is found to be meaningless and useless. It’s a hard idea to get my head around, but the author may well be right.
Another big idea, “Every choice we make is either a growth choice or a fear choice.” I’ve never broken choices down quite so much, but the more I think about this idea, the more I like it as a way to make a decision. This idea should be a fridge magnet.
Breakable You is beautifully written. The characters felt real and full and whole. Their lives were interesting, sometimes funny and sometimes sad, and while I didn’t like the behaviour of some of the characters (Adam Weller, I mean you in particular), I could completely understand their motives.
I really enjoyed Breakable You and will go out of my way to find other books by Brian Morton.