Broken as Things Are
Martha Witt
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Broken as Things Are

Martha Witt
304 pages
July 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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Click here to read reviewer Shannon Bigham's take on Broken as Things Are.

Broken as Things Are is a disturbing and poignant coming-of-age tale, all the more painful for its immutability: a dysfunctional family in denial, the thin line between social acceptance and a lack of personal boundaries between brother and sister, mother and son. Ginx suffers from a form of autism, functional enough to attend high school but still given to withdrawal and ritualistic behavior.

Ginx and Morgan-Lee have lived in a world of their own making for all of their childhood, their affection for one another unquestioned and without boundaries, a place of comfort and seclusion. In the summer of Morgan-Lee's fourteenth birthday, subtle shifts have already opened a shallow breech between brother and sister. With a mother suffering from a debilitating depression that causes her withdrawal from the children, Morgan-Lee, Ginx and their sister, Dana, create their own landscape, their own field of imagination to fill the sweltering days.

This is the summer of Morgan-Lee's blossoming, defined by her own needs and wants rather than sheltering Ginx's fragile ego. Morgan-Lee has literally belonged to her fifteen-year-old brother, their youth a patchwork of imaginary fables and shared secrets, but she is a survivor who subconsciously acknowledges that she can never provide all that her brother needs.

The three children are isolated from their peers, Morgan-Lee routinely shepherding Ginx through his emotional difficulties. Morgan-Lee has long indulged in romantic fantasies, but it is not until the children socialize with the odd young woman, Sweety-Boy, and her half-brother, Jacob, that their careful surface develops fissures, threatening to change their relationship irrevocably. When the siblings attend an intimate birthday party thrown by Sweety-Boy, the status quo is altered by the drunken exposure of naked needs blooming in the humid summer air.

Sweety-Boy's world-weary cynicism acts as a catalyst for Morgan-Lee, a role model for her new-found goals; on the other hand, Morgan-Lee is perplexed by the other girl's actions, mistaking Sweety-Boy’s stubbornness for confidence, prematurely worldly and conscious of her own currency in a stingy world, while in contrast Morgan-Lee is still wrapped in innocence, her desire for the opposite sex deepening; Morgan Lee knows the price will be the loss of her brother’s solace. Inevitably, all three of the siblings are thrown into unexpected betrayals.

Morgan-Lee recognizes the storm on the horizon, helpless to change the inevitable, “the prison of solitude that so often kept people together, no matter how unhappily, was constructed out of pure, empty yearning.” Morgan-Lee, her brother and sister play out their fates against a Southern gothic background, all of them lacking emotional support and affection, mixed with the suggestion of forbidden intimacies. Many scenes are wracked with the painful awkwardness of adolescence and the yearning for love, the carefully constructed walls of their house of cards all but destroyed by Morgan-Lee’s impulsive lurch into her own identity.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2005

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