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Elegies for the Brokenhearted

Elegies for the Brokenhearted is a book about nobodies. The narrator, Mary Murphy, is a silent observer to the destructive forces around her that ultimately shape the outcome of her life. As invisible as her ubiquitous name, Mary is a shy—and at times optionally mute—child and young adult who finds very little to care for. We first meet Mary as a young girl trying desperately to gain the (positive) attention of her mother and uncle. As the reader learns more of these relationships, often one-sided with a young, vulnerable, Mary left aching for more, we understand why her emotions calcify at such a young age.

As silent as she may be to the other people in her life, as a narrator she is bitingly, viscerally descriptive, and engaging, and I found myself completely immersed in her world; always fighting for her despite her many shortcomings. The prose in this novel is engrossing and her world became very real to me, despite the overwhelmingly bleak, disappointing theme.

If the majority of the book was engrossing, the end left much to be desired. Mary, who had never found inspiration in anything—music, reading, working, even eating and talking—suddenly became a wonderful teacher of underprivileged youth and an effortless mother. The most destructive and formative relationships in her life, with her mother and sister, are terminated without closure, and she seems to heal from them effortlessly right in time for the last pages of the book. The reader had already come to accept Mary despite some loose ends; it would have been nice to see a more realistic, albeit less pretty, ending to the story.

This is not the cheeriest book you will read this summer, but the protagonist is a nobody that everybody will root for.

Written by: Colleen Hodgetts, June 19th 2010

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