Heartbreaker: A Novel by Claudia Dey

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This was the smell my mother was giving off now in our front hallway- an unfinished space, an open body cavity, an open grave.

A cult trapped in the 1980s makes for one strangely unique read. Told in three parts by Girl, Dog and Boy, what does it say about me that I devoured the chapters told in the dog’s voice? Well, I did. When not scavenging through discarded junk or trying to be hot like that ‘girl in the Whitesnake video’ our narrator Pony is trying to understand what happened to her mother who has disappeared. Living on a tract of land called ‘the territory’ that the Leader and his followers landed on, we are told that Pony’s mother ended up their seventeen years ago, always an outsider, after a car accident. Her father, ‘the Heavy’ a solid, tragically scarred man doesn’t understand his  beautiful mysterious wife, Billie Jean (not likely her real name) and the others never fully trust her. Isolated from the rest of the world, how far could her mother have gone?

In truth, her mother had been folding in on herself for months, tormented by some inner turmoil and not noticing that Pony too is facing her own emotional ‘storms’ coming of age, the only virgin ripe for the sons. Her father is already set apart from the other men, a mystery. Supernatural is the only boy Pony finds interesting, because of his intelligence not because he is the best looking, he seems nothing like the other boys who think only of sex. Supernatural has everyone in his thrall, simply for being touched by perfection, light, even if he doesn’t feel that way. The relationship between Pony and her mother wasn’t always strained, they shared a separate life for themselves through swimming but Billie Jean’s past before the territory remains shrouded in mystery, prevents a deeper bond between mother and daughter. A life Billie Jean only wants to forget, erase. Was it all about disappearing, just what is out there, beyond the territory? What was she escaping?

What about the dog, what does dog know? Why was it speaking to her mother and her mother to it? “She was always in motion. Always between things. Talking to herself.” All Pony wants is for her mother, the mother both she and her father remember, to surface.

Dog knows a lot of things, shares an intimacy with Billie Jean beyond any human relationship, even if daughter Pony has been the one tracking her mother. Pony, the only child dog can tolerate because, dog tells us ‘Children are manipulators, hysterics, vaudevillians.’ This pet, whom we do not name because in the territory only people get named, is closest to Billie Jean in the three months she hid away in her bedroom. Dog is wise and witty, loyal.  Dog tells us how the territory began, who John (the leader) was and how he escaped Suburbia only to recreate it. It is with deep pleasure Dog has a name, a name bestowed upon by Billie Jean. Dog knows her sorrows and her history, all the secrets of her tragic past.

But what does Boy know? How is he involved? Maybe the territory has secrets of its own, maybe boy’s secret is the biggest. Just who is the Heartbreaker? This novel is an original to be sure, the people are weird, of all the decades for a cult to cling to this leant humor to a moving, sad tale. There is satisfaction in uncovering what led Billie Jean to remain in the territory all those years ago and her choices, mistakes then and now are easy to relate to. Mother as mystery, how many daughters look at their mother’s just this way? How many daughters will themselves be mysteries to their own children one day? Billie Jean wants escape, but instead takes great risks that leave her far more vulnerable, create bigger secrets and deceptions that pull others in and leaves a hell of a mess in her wake.

Publication Date: August 21, 2018

Random House

 

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