Click here to read reviewer Bobby Blades' take on Half Broken Things.
Jean is one of the unnoticed, a single woman who has faded into age without much attention, plain and functional, the kind of reliable person preferred by a housesitting agency: “We have the perfect lady, flexible, no ties, usually available.” With a long and tired history of emotional poverty, the sixty-four-year old Jean has muddled through the years.
Due to her advanced age, the future is insecure, finances uncertain and the years ahead frightening, without home or family; it is likely that this will be Jean’s last posting. Her mind too often her only companion, Jean is given to illogical flights of fancy in her current situation at Walden Manor: “The old Jean simply detached herself, rose up and disappeared into the steam, like a person dissolving into fog.”
Resentful of the restrictions put upon her by the owners, the Standish-Caves, Jean finds many doors locked against intrusion, a situation she views as an implicit judgment of her untrustworthiness at best, or perhaps her standing as a mere caretaker of other people’s things.
Nursing a subtle rebellion, Jean accidentally breaks a teapot containing the keys to the formerly unavailable rooms and private drawers, suddenly liberated from her position, gradually inhabiting the home: “People should have what they need, especially if they have to go without most of their lives.”
The next step, albeit bizarre, is almost inevitable: a family all her own. Then the others arrive, literally strangers whom Jean accepts into her heart, Michael and a pregnant Stephanie. Jean fills the house with expectations and generosity, hampered initially by a lack of funds, which the three of them overcome by means of creative calculations.
Jean’s life theme has been “that good things, opportunity, security, affection, should come to me, if at all, only second-hand, and in second-rate scraps.” Now her days are filled with the bustle of family, if at the expense of others, and a convoluted reasoning that allows them to pretend that they are
to the manor born.
The house surrounds its new inhabitants with comforts and possibilities unavailable to them at any other time and place, even as reality impinges upon their contentment. Meanwhile, Jean puts the facts to paper, a journal to explain how things came to be the way they are, how she came to her current dilemma in this welcoming home and how it has become a haven for Michael, Stephanie, Jean and the baby.
Like a twisted fairy tale, desperate people perform increasingly desperate acts to protect the family at all costs. By turns bizarre and gothic, Joss’ untrammeled imagination gives birth to a poignant respite for three truly half-broken things who wander beyond the edge of reason, the demand for inclusion so fierce as to justify the most heinous acts. The isolation at the manor is seductive, self-justification pervasive, the three pitting need against propriety in an astonishing tale of belonging at any cost.