Broken for You

Broken For You by Stehanie Kallos

Theater veteran Kallos debuts with a dazzling mosaic of intersecting lives and fates. . . . Kallos has a rare, deft way with whimsy, dream sequences and hallucinations. Comparisons to John Irving and Tennessee Williams would not be amiss in this show-stopping debut.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

praise for Broken for You

  • Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, picks Broken for You for the December 2004 Today Book Club
  • A Book Sense Reading Group Suggestion Top Ten Pick
  • A Book Sense Selection
  • A Library Journal Best First Novelist of 2005
  • Winner of a 2005 Pacific Northwest Bookseller Association Award
  • Quill Book Award finalist for Debut Author of the Year
  • Sold in 10 countries

“I absolutely fell in love with this book. . . . There is a message here about creating family in the most unusual places. . . . I promise you this: you will not be sorry you read this book . . . there is a wisdom and soulfulness there. . . . It’s a wonderful, engaging story.” —Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees

Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means ‘repair the world,’ and this imperative serves as the narrative catalyst of Broken for You. . . . This is a novel of redemption.” —Susan Coll, Washington Post

“Sweetly rich with detail, and when romance sneaked into the book, I was sure it was a story of redemption and second chances. . . . Broken for You is moving and endearing, painful and satisfying, put together in just the right shape.” —Susan Hall-Balduf, Detroit Free Press

Broken For You is a romance for the Eleanor Rigbys of the world, those lonely people who find unexpected happiness by creating a surrogate family.” —Seattle Post Intelligencer

“Well-crafted plotting and crackling wit make this debut novel by Seattle author Kallos a delight to read and a memory to savor. The compelling story highlights the losses and disjointedness of life and the many paths back to healing for those who seek the way. . . . The clever plot and luminous characters are not all that place this novel at the head of the class. Ghostly characters only Margaret sees and heaps of broken porcelain provide powerful metaphors for the sins of the past and the need for personal sacrifice. Book groups will enjoy discussing the layers of meaning, the stylistic nuances, and the powerful message of hope secreted in these pages.” —Jennifer Baker, Booklist (starred review)

“Theater veteran Kallos debuts with a dazzling mosaic of intersecting lives and fates. . . . Kallos has a rare, deft way with whimsy, dream sequences and hallucinations. Comparisons to John Irving and Tennessee Williams would not be amiss in this show-stopping debut.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“This is ultimately a work of repair and redemption. . . . Kallos has given us a compelling, richly layered story reminiscent of works by John Irving and Anne Tyler in its bittersweet humor and well-drawn characters. Carol Shields also comes to mind for the sharp attention to domestic detail and insight into the tenuous relationships of contemporary life. . . . Recommended for all fiction collections.” —Jenn B. Stidham, Library Journal (starred review)

“A story of growth and redemption filled with a delightfully offbeat cast of characters. . . . Kallos writes in a chatty, breezy style that fits the quirkiness of the characters. . . . There’s an almost magical feeling to this story.” —Ann M. Colford, Pacific Northwest Inlander

“Refreshing and delightful . . . sincere in its originality, fun in its engagement. . . . In her acknowledgements, Kallos states that the novel took her seven years to finish, and there is a definite sense that this is a book that has been well-raised. Care has been taken in its telling. . . . Nothing feels rushed, the timing and pace just right.” —Lacey Galbraith, Nashville Scene

“Kallos . . . has taken well-developed and honestly imperfect characters who were once strangers, and intertwined them lovingly in a beautiful mosaic that may forever hang in readers’ minds and remind them of why some things must break before they can become a part of something truly beautiful.” —Colleen Dougher, Sun-Sentinel

“A series of reunions, tragedies and newfound friends highlights Kallos’s sparkling first novel, but the author’s attention to detail leads the reader to believe she’s a longtime novelist. A supporting cast of characters colors the story and reinforces the theme of love and family—both by blood and by choice.” —Michael Bratcher, The Sunday Oklahoman

“Artful meandering is only part of the magic. . . . A wondrous tale, peopled with quirky characters and implausible plot twists, but no cheap tricks. . . . If you open yourself to the world Kallos has created, you may not have the foggiest idea where she is taking you, but you will willingly go, as she pulls you along, piece by piece.” —Cindy Lange-Kubick, Lincoln Journal Star

“[A] dreamy, powerful tale of familial warring, secrets and redemption . . . . This haunting and memorable debut is reminiscent of early [Margaret] Atwood, peopled by lovably imperfect and eccentric characters.” —Publishers Weekly

“Stephanie Kallos’s lovely and heartfelt first novel is a gift. A story of broken hearts and broken promises, it is also the story of the ways we put things back together—messily, beautifully, and ultimately triumphantly. Kallos is a writer to watch, and one who, mercifully, still believes in happy endings.” —Sheri Holman, author of The Dress Lodger and The Mammoth Cheese

“Let the angels in! With this story of transformative friendships, Stephanie Kallos calls us to leave the dreary wisdom of our lives and seek the company of souls adrift. Good things come in pieces.” —Nancy Rawles, author of My Jim

“In this sparkling debut novel, Stephanie Kallos has created an extraordinary testament to the power of love and forgiveness. Broken For You is a big-hearted book that pulses with life.” —Tova Mirvis, author of The Outside World and The Ladies Auxiliary

“A seventy-six-year-old woman who’s just learned that she has a brain tumor takes in a thirty-four-year-old woman who’s just been dumped by her boyfriend. Can this be funny? Yes. Painfully funny, beautifully written, and completely original. I love this novel.” —Lolly Winston author of Good Grief

reader's guide : Broken for You

  1. How is Margaret portrayed in the beginning? Who is this woman who is entombed in a vast, carefully dusted house with her father’s collection? An unlikely heroine, she is an old, peculiar recluse. How is her diagnosis an inciting force for change? Talk about her growing appreciation of the uncommonness of common things.
  2. In the clamor of the first armload of plate crashing, Wanda “suddenly knew that she had found a home with someone who was as deeply aggrieved and crazy as she was. It was tremendously comforting” (p. 133). How does the Hughes house, truly a sanatorium, provide a haven and structure for these women to pass through madness to sanity? Can you think of other books or plays that explore the same theme?
  3. When Wanda reflects on her life in the theater, she says, “You’re part of this intense family for a while, and then everyone moves on” (p. 165). How does Troy shift the rules? What is different about the steady accretion of people at the Hughes house?
  4. How much is it possible to know another person? What are the limitations imposed on characters in Broken for You, both by accidents of history and by their own actions? Even with breakthroughs of knowledge and trust, do any characters keep a part that is private? Which ones? Margaret and Wanda, for instance, as close as they are, each retain core secrets until almost the end. Why? And what are the secrets? Why does M. J. Striker withhold his own secret and recognition so long?
  5. What do we learn about Margaret’s mother? How does she function in the book? Were you reminded of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit? In her visitations, what is her value to Margaret? There is high comedy in her shenanigans. “Oh, Margaret really! You must enjoy this hoopla while you can. Believe me when I tell you it’s no fun being part of a scandal after you’re dead” (p. 289). Is Margaret working something else out in these spectral appearances? (The visits of Daniel are fewer and very different. How?)
  6. Did you find conflicts between traditional values and newer ones? Where? Which characters grow larger or more sympathetic from being challenged by younger people? Does the converse hold?
  7. How is the theme of the quest important in the book? Which characters commit themselves to seeking someone lost? What are the results? Who abandons the quest and why? Are there surprising rewards?
  8. Parenting is explored in various characters’ stories. Discuss Oscar, Margaret, and Michael as parents. Others? How is the idea of surrogate parenting developed? How successful is it?
  9. “Once the door is open . . . you can’t shut it again, impose limits, set degrees of openness . . .” (p. 126). In what ways do Margaret and Wanda, and later Gus and M.J., irrevocably make themselves available and vulnerable to life?
  10. What does it mean to bear witness in this book? “Margaret had been given the privilege of bearing witness to Wanda’s life” (p. 126). What other characters participate in this act? What are the larger ramifications of bearing witness, and why does it matter? For instance, why does it matter to honor the dead and find out their stories and try to fulfill their wishes?
  11. Talk about the title. To how many characters and things and ways of life does it pertain? What is meant by a “dissolution of borders” on page 269?
  12. How is the star motif expanded in the book? Think about the star imagery from Margaret to l942 school children in Europe. (See page 282 for some of Margaret’s own thoughts on the subject. And see page 290 for a further amplification of the symbol.)
  13. “The Hughes Collection Scandal: Desecration or Deification?” (p. 278). What do you think about the central occupation in the book? Art? Or half-crazed mayhem? What do Wanda’s pieces say about her as an artist? What does the media criticism of her work say about the art? “Consider the artist’s point of view” (p. 293). Do you accept the premise that salvation or restitution may come through destruction and loss—and moving on? Which characters find their own salvation through building up others?
  14. How does the Crazy Plate Academy serve as a culmination of the process that has gone on through the book? “Sorting was like beachcombing on a shore where every pebble is precious and time is boundless. And the familiar way everyone chatted—so many hands in constant, purposeful, attentive motion—gave Margaret the feeling of being at a quilting bee, a barn raising, or a wake” (pp. 327–328). What do these activities, certainly disparate, have in common?
  15. How does the fact that neither Margaret nor Wanda is Jewish affect their joint efforts vis-à-vis the Holocaust victims and memories? When does expiation for her Nazi-sympathizer father become important for Margaret? Do you agree that “at the center of this controversy is the concept of worth: what we as humans value—and why” (p. 280)? When Margaret is researching Irma’s past in Paris, she realizes, “Bodies had been shattered and things had not” (p. 313). How directly does her involvement in the making of tesserae correct this imbalance? Does the appearance of the Jewish patron Babs Cohen add credibility to the undertaking? Discuss other times Judaism appears in the novel. Think about, for instance, Sam Kosminsky singing in Hebrew at dinner, the background imagery of Kristallnacht (p. 227), the museum in Paris, and Bruce singing the blessing.
  16. Irma Kosminsky is the most vocal proponent for doing mitzvahs. What are some of them? How do you explain her life-affirming resilience and sense of humor? How does she explain it? In a conversation with M.J. we hear “Why bother, Mrs. K? . . . We both know you’re going to win” (p. 274). Apart from Scrabble, how else does Irma “win” in the book?
  17. Discuss Stephanie Kallos’s definition of a relationship: “a marvel of construction, built up over time and out of fragments of shared experience . . . Maybe we feel such a strong kinship with pique assiette because it is the visual metaphor that best describes us; after all, we spend much of our lives hurling bits of the figurative and literal past into the world’s landfill—and then regret it. We build our identities from that detritus of regret. Every relationship worth keeping sustains, at the very least, splintered glazes, hairline fractures, cracks. And aren’t these flaws the prerequisites of intimacy?” (p. 295). Do you find this an alarming view of human behavior? Or do you find it oddly comforting?
  18. What is the significance of the Sevre chocolate service? How is the mystery resolved? What is the story of the single teacup? “It was like that all through the war, things like that, little things that people did” (p. 321). What ultimately is the fate of the tête-à-tête?
  19. How is the poetry of Yeats interwoven in the book? Why in particular should it be Yeats who recurs?
  20. What were the funniest parts of the book for you? Think of Irma, with her dry survivor wit as well as her bolder humor. Recall Maurice, whose clumsiness is a boon in the Hughes house. And Margaret’s outrageous mother. Talk about other moments of high or low comedy.
  21. How are love and sex recurring symbols of healing and joy? Think about specific relationships, those that survive and those that don’t. Describe M.J.’s loves, both as Striker and as O’Casey. How do you compare young love to that of older people? Why does Wanda wait so long to accept Troy as her lover? What does the parenthood of Susan and Bruce say about love, sex, and family?
  22. The china, both whole and in pieces, generates stories, such as the ice-fishing ninety-two-year-old Alta Fogle. “Maybe this is true. Maybe not. You can never be sure: all objects in the Hughes house have to have meaning, and if their past is not known, stories are invented” (p. 337). In chapter thirty-two, the narrator addresses the reader directly, as if one were M. J. Striker approaching the Hughes house. “Pay attention. Let your mind embrace metaphors. It’s your first clue about what goes on here” (p. 337). How do these quotations help us understand multiple levels of the story? Is the making of mosaic art also a metaphor for writing stories, the novel, for instance?
  23. Did you find the dream sequences effective in conjuring up the memories and surreal perceptions of the injured Wanda and the dying Margaret? As a reader was it hard for you to suspend disbelief in a kind of free fall? Have you encountered magic realism in other books? In the third dream sequence, Margaret approaches Wanda. “Be happy. . . . We’re worth more broken” (p. 348). How is the last line of Margaret’s dream, “The balloon arcs up forever, into the night sky, past millions of glittering stars” (p. 350), magically apt?

where to buy Broken for You

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