Fractured by Catherine McKenzie

fractured-by-catherine-mckenzieFeels like: Passing notes back and forth to your friend in high school about how much you hate that “one girl.”

Song Pairing:I Still Wait For You” by XYLO

Nobody really likes Julie Prentice. At least that’s what it seems like to Julie Prentice. Best-selling author of the thrilling novel The Murder Game, she’s racking in the dollars and the fame, but along with all the accolades comes a psychotic former acquaintance turned stalker. Crazy Heather just won’t leave Julie alone, so Julie and her handsome husband and children pack up their life and move to the suburbs of Cincinnati.

Across the street lives a handsome man named John who immediately notices Julie. John’s got a lovely wife and two children, but boy does he seem unnaturally and electrically drawn to Julie. Their friendship causes a stir in the neighborhood and begins an onslaught of I Love Lucy-level accidents on Julie’s end. Julie feels as if she literally thinks negative things into happening–so much so that she’s alienating herself from the new neighborhood, pissing off the controlling PTA Neighborhood Watch mom Cindy, inspiring paranoia in John’s wife, all while still reeling from remnants of trauma her stalker Heather ingrained in her.

This novel wants to be fractured, but it’s more broken than that. There is a Thanksgiving-feast sized cornucopia of unmet expectations. The ending that McKenzie teases us with in time jumps between John and the impending doom of a court date, where we have to assume something incredibly tragic has happened that we won’t know until the very end, is not terribly unexpected or even interesting. It barely registers as a talking point.

What McKenzie does do is present us with some incredibly flawed characters that you actually like. Julie, in spite of her “I’m gorgeous, but broken, and super clumsy in an endearing way” trope feels like a fleshed out character, and I can see her as a real woman I know and can sympathize with. John is also subtly fleshed out, at once a protective father, a philandering husband, helplessly adrift in shades of grey, but entirely likable.

I didn’t miss the point of the novel here–secrets, secrets, secrets. I wanted to read Julie Prentice (Apple’s) novel The Murder Game more than Fractured; the novel that creates such turmoil in Julie’s life is also her catharsis. She knows that her and her college “friends”, a Cruel Intentions-inspired prep group indulging in sex and drugs to the fullest extent, were pretty alienating to outsiders like Heather. But their little think-tank game of “who would be the easiest to murder, and how would you do it?” might have gone too far. Julie wrote her novel from real life experience, and Heather knows the truth that Julie is suppressing. Sadly enough, this plot feels a distant second to the Cincinnati neighborhood blunders, the social missteps, the paranoia and the really, really obvious red herrings that McKenzie attempts to trick us with.

Memorable Quotes:

“Everyone’s life has its complications. Sometimes you get to choose them, and sometimes they’re thrust upon you. The trick is knowing which is which.”

“There are so many versions of the truth, I’ve found. One for each person. But the whole truth? No one ever tells the whole truth. Do they?”

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Feels like: Walking alone through a shaded wood for hours, no end in sight, without smiling.

Song pairing: “Wolves” by Phosphorescence

“Instead I stood under scalding water in the shower for one magnificent minute, letting needles of water pluck open some feeling of woe, some feeling of desolation I didn’t know I had felt. A capsized feeling, a sense of the next thing coming already.”

If God exists, how does He let these kinds of things happen? This skeptical but familiar question is the skeletal structure of Emily Fridlund’s coming of age novel.

Linda is a 14 year old girl living with her family in the boggy Minnesota woods. Their home was once a crowded, bustling commune full of hippies and their group-raised children, but differences of opinion disintegrated the commune and Linda, her mother and father are all that remain. Linda is raised with an admirable affinity for naturalist survival, animals and the woods, often taking long walks and paddling out onto the lake for a sense of connection. She has a distinct lack of friends and her inability to relate to other people is a fine point to her love of animals: she feels closer to wolves than humans.

Plot points: Linda’s high school gets a new teacher who may be spending too much time eyeing his young students. New neighbors build a summer home across the lake, a young woman and her 3-year-old son, Paul. Linda begins to babysit for the affluent neighbors, prematurely slinking into the husk of another life like sinking into a warm bath. Of course, the perfect-seeming family is anything but.  Linda muses in one of her frequent time leaps that this story is her attempt to explain human evil.

Growing up “odd” or “different” is not unfamiliar territory for a coming-of-age novel, but Linda is a very special kind of narrator; she can tell us her story, she can reveal her nuanced motivations, we can experience the time-jumping memory-wash that takes us through the awkward high school moments, the desperate shuffle to feel connected to her mother, the charming yet utterly misguided obsession with her neighbors and their perfect nuclear world; we can experience the crushing blow of totally preventable loss, but we still never get to know Linda.

Linda is still a white sheet tacked up on the wall by good intentions. History of Wolves is a constellation of lonely people motivated by their need to live their lives the way they imagine it best, either through the acceptance of their darker urges, through religion, through a blind dedication to the way things “have always been.” The projector plays on Linda, but when the film turns off, she’s still just a blank white sheet.

I think the only part of this novel that will really stick with me is Linda’s relationship with her father. It’s so poignant, trusting but turbulent, a boat lashed to shore on unsteady waters. You imagine both of them reaching out to each other to the best of their abilities, but never knowing exactly how to cross the divide. So much is said in their silences.

Memorable Quotes:

“I could still climb into my father’s lap in my cotton nightgown and pretend I was smaller, a little girl he could hold and protect–or better yet, a piece of equipment he could use, a wonderful worn tool that needed tending, like the tape measure he returned with such care to his leather belt.”