Perfectly Broken by Robert Burke Warren is a debut novel about Beth and Grant, a couple who leaves New York City after 9/11 when Beth loses her job at a magazine. Grant, whose days as a rock star are behind him, has been staying home with their 4 year-old son Evan, growing increasingly numb, medicated and depressed. With no income to pay the rent on their East Village apartment, they reluctantly move upstate, where they move into a farmhouse owned by their best friends, Christa and Trip.
Perfectly Broken is raw and gritty, full of flawed characters grappling with midlife and its attendant stresses – professional failures, parenting struggles and anxiety. They are on drugs, but their drugs are the prescription type – antidepressants and sleeping pills. There is simmering tension between most of these unhappy characters, tension that surfaces in the climax of the novel during a dramatic storm. Grant and Beth are forced to confront some secrets in their marriage, while Christa and Trip’s relationship implodes, ignited by Christa’s drunken tirade.
I know this all sounds really depressing, and some of it is, but Warren is a funny, observant writer who has added a nice entry to the oeuvre of contemporary dad fiction. (See also Fathermucker by Greg Olear, Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman and pretty much anything by Jonathan Tropper). I loved the rock elements of the book, from Grant’s jealousy about others’ hits to the role that music plays in his life and relationships. I also loved the little details and observations in Warren’s writing – he has a very sharp eye. I felt like I was in the room right next to these characters as the action unfolded.
There is a lot of pain in Perfectly Broken, but also hope, as these characters try to confront their issues and figure out how to leave their pasts behind and move on. One character quotes Lily Tomlin: “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” I think that’s a good theme for this book. Accepting our imperfect pasts, as hard as it is, is the best way to move on to a better future.
I don’t usually participate in blog tours, but TLC Book Tours reached out to me about Perfectly Broken, thinking I would like it, and they were right. I’m glad I read it.