Cannonball Read IV: Elegies for the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen
I saw Elegies for the Brokenhearted written up on NPR and was intrigued by the premise: a novel written as 5 elegies for characters from the elegist’s/protagonist’s life. The cover was slightly bewitching. I left its tab open in my browser all day and finally requested it from the library. I took it home and it sat on my table for a week. Eventually I picked it up, approximately 48 hours prior to this writing, and subsequently tore through it with nary a break (okay I slept, and I’m a slow reader). It was slow in getting into my hands, true, but from the first page I was completely under its spell.
This book is extremely somber. It’s tragic in the way only ordinary life can be: regular people encounter common setbacks and heartbreak ensues. I can’t say that I have experienced or know anyone with problems quite like these; in fact, reading this made me feel like a sniveling brat for being unhappy with my own life. Nevertheless, I felt a kinship with the elegist, Mary, a woman who was forever set apart from and yet tethered to her small hometown and family.
Hodgen’s prose is so precise and evocative that more than once I found myself flipping to the dust jacket to check whether I wasn’t in fact reading a memoir. The format, a unique device that made the novel pass more like a cohesive collection of short stories, is critical to the novel’s success. Every page is infused with both recrimination but also dutiful remembrance and begrudging affection. Mary’s words paint vivid portraits no only of the complex people she remembers, but also reveal more and more about herself. This novel is a testament to the intricate and inevitable ways in which people become the bricks of the house of a life. They hold us up, hold us in, but when things get bad, we’re grateful for the buffer, however meager, from the cold and rain.
It’s hard to say I enjoyed this book. A better way to describe my feelings would be to say I was compelled to read it until I couldn’t anymore because it was over. … Having written that sentence, I realize that might be a good way to describe life most days, too. It’s elegant, cruel, giving just enough to keep you going, and then it’s over and you wish there was more. Always more.
(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)
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