Broken Places, The
By Frances Peck
Vancouver. A day like any other. Kyle, a successful cosmetic surgeon, is punishing himself with a sprint up a mountain. Charlotte, wife of a tech tycoon, is combing the farm belt for local cheese and a sense of purpose. Back in the city their families go about their business: ... Read more
Vancouver. A day like any other. Kyle, a successful cosmetic surgeon, is punishing himself with a sprint up a mountain. Charlotte, wife of a tech tycoon, is combing the farm belt for local cheese and a sense of purpose. Back in the city their families go about their business: landscaping, negotiating deals, skipping school. It's a day like any other--until suddenly it's not.
When the earthquake hits, the city erupts in chaos and fear. Kyle's and Charlotte's families, along with two passersby, are thrown together in an oceanfront mansion. The conflicts that beset these wildly different people expose the fault lines beneath their relationships, as they question everything in an effort to survive and reunite with their loved ones stranded outside the city.
Frances Peck's debut novel examines the unpredictable ways in which disaster can shake up lives and test personal resilience.
Frances Peck wrote fiction and poetry until her early twenties, when the realities of adulthood and rent steered her toward a career as a freelance writer, ghostwriter, editor, and instructor. Known for her writing and workshops on the finer points of language, she's the author of Peck's English Pointers (an online writing tool), a co-author of the HyperGrammar website, and an occasional essayist and blogger. Frances returns to her first love, fiction, with The Broken Places, part of the Nunatak First Fiction Series.
Part One: Strain
One minute you're at your spot in the enormous kitchen, a chrome-and-leather stool at one end of the gleaming granite island. The desert island, you privately call it. You're alone there so often you may as well be marooned.
Down-island: a clamshell. Actually a laptop, slim, silver, screen gone black, the only sign that another human has crossed this strip of land. The human: your mother, who abhors crumbs and unrinsed coffee cups, drips and stains, crusts of toast--all the messes of human life. Your mother, who moves through each day leaving no trace other than some random electronic device. Hurricane Charlotte, Dad calls her, a strange name for someone who glides cold and robot-like through life. Your mother, who never listens, who doesn't understand the first thing about you, who is too oblivious to even know that she doesn't know.
One minute you're sitting there, empty Mountain Dew can at your elbow, the drink having edged you into another reluctant day, along with the fatty-sweet bitsu-bitsu May made fresh this morning. Breakfast of champions, Dad said when he strolled in. He swiped a couple of the chewy doughnuts himself, trailed sugar like white sand all the way to the kitchen island. Your mother glared.
One minute you're on your stool. On your phone, scanning Instagram posts from Rebecca Lee, who used to hang out with you. You'd go to the mall, split a frozen yogurt, one topping your choice, one hers, get high, steal nail polish, steal, once, a pair of jeans you shoved under your jacket when Rebecca said no way, you never would. Rebecca, now a stuck-up slut who has quit talking to you.
It's not like she's the only one. Lots of people won't acknowledge you now. You creep along the hallway outside chem lab--which used to be your spot between classes, you owned that spot--and your so-called friends fold into a tight whispering knot, no words for you. You angle toward your place in the cafeteria, the table where you've sat for the past two and a half years, and find every chair occupied. In class, it doesn't matter which one, the person in front of you hands papers back without turning all the way. When you enter the washroom you clear the place out.
It's fine. They talked about this in group. Reintegration, they called it; also redrawing. It's hard for the people in your life to redraw you. They want to see the same you they've always seen. The group counsellor, Drayton, too earnest and granola for your liking though he always gave you respect, would trace a rectangle in the air with his forefinger. For most people, he said, the world is a tidy box. Step outside the box, disturb their sense of order, and they feel profoundly uncomfortable. When that happens, you've got to remember the discomfort is their problem, not yours.
Redrawing. You like that idea.
One minute your earbuds are pulsing Taylor Swift, a not-bad song years ago when it came out, the video with all the ballet dancers, now just lame, an embarrassing scrap of childhood. Like the frilly canopy bed you hung on to until you were fifteen and woke up one day to realize you were no one's princess. Time to make a new playlist. Taylor Swift is so . . . yesterday.
One minute you're on your desert island, scrolling, scrolling, looking for a better, more meaningful song, a more mature song, one that suits your mood this boring Tuesday morning, wondering if you should post something about that skanky Rebecca Lee, because you know stuff about her no one else knows, or if you should just let it go, the way you're learning to let things go.
The next minute--how?--
You're on your ass, the heavy stool you were sitting on tipped over beside you.
Pots and pans sail off copper hooks. Crash all around you. Bounce.
Holy shit! Dad?
Instinct kicks in. Make yourself small. You curl up like a snail, hold your bandaged hand close to your belly. Be a snail. Be a snail. Only you've never had a shell.
The blender flies off the granite island, smashes onto the terracotta floor. Glass sprays. Another barstool falls.
You wait. Wire-taut, every nerve screaming run. But you don't. It's the one thing you're not supposed to do.
Below the treble of smashing glass and clanging metal, a bass line builds, like no sound you've ever heard before. Deep rolling thunder, but louder. Close. A jumbo jet landing on the roof.
You wait. Terrified.
You wait, like you've waited for so much in life. To be understood. To matter.
You wait. For everything to end. For something else to begin.
Praise for The Broken Places:
"In her debut novel, Frances Peck masterfully brings together a cast of complex characters, each broken in their own way, and weaves a compelling story set against the backdrop of a catastrophic earthquake. It beautifully reminded me that none of us are ever on solid ground, especially when it comes to our human, and fragmented, hearts. "
~ Brian Francis, author of Fruit and Missed Connections
"With masterful use of craft, Peck takes readers on a journey into how devastation draws us together while pulling us apart. With moving imagery and haunting insight into response to trauma, The Broken Places highlights the flawed nature of humanity and our ability to move forward and find community after complicated, tragic loss. Above all, Peck gives nuanced, stunning characters who show readers what it means to give ourselves up to our flaws and find love and beauty in the process. "
~ Kelly S. Thompson, national bestselling author of Girls Need Not Apply: Field Notes from the Forces
"Frances Peck's wonderfully sophisticated and razor-sharp novel takes dead aim at Vancouver's tenuous decadent dreams against an ensemble of mesmerizing characters. The Broken Places casts an unwavering eye on a city of glass and its inhabitants who must respond to a savagely cruel event that shatters some families while bringing others closer together. It's Balzacian in its ambition and wit, raising ineluctable questions about family and wealth, love and lust, resignation and resilience, and offers hard-earned truths about the death of dreams and how we'll fight fiercely to keep them intact regardless of the cost. A well-crafted, affecting debut. "
~ John Vigna, author of No Man's Land
"Frances Peck reveals herself a writer with seismic impact as she examines the before, during, and after of crumbling worlds and relationships. The Broken Places will scare the living daylights out of you while it yields harsh truths, heartbreak, and hope about the human condition. "
~ Glen Huser, author of Burning the Night
"The Broken Places is a propulsive, terrifying novel about the sudden catastrophic upending of day-to-day life. Hillsides slump, bridges give way, apartment buildings tilt and crumble--while love, desire, greed and devotion are tested, heightened or lost forever. Frances Peck's characters are those we instinctively understand. Beautifully layered and compelling, this novel explores the intricacies of human behaviour--what it is that makes us, and what it is we cherish most. "
~ Libby Creelman, author of Split
"The Broken Places is a rare treat that combines high-tension narrative with true literary craft, delivering characters that readers will love to love, hate, pity, and grieve. Set against the backdrop of a devastating earthquake, the story of how a diverse group of people react to their new reality is beautifully delivered, offering many moments of masterful writing and rich, sensory engagement. Layer by layer, Peck reveals the motivations, fears and desires of her characters, doling out clues that culminate in an explosive and heartbreaking climax. Yet the novel ends with hope. Not a sweet-sugary treat, but a hope grounded firmly in believable characters and situations that resonate. "
~ Ruth E. Walker, author of Living Underground
"Frances Peck's dazzling debut novel snatches a cast of vividly realized, multifaceted characters out of their daily lives in Vancouver and gathers them closer and closer as the book builds toward a dramatic, disturbing macroseismic cataclysm. Peck slides effortlessly in and out of the intimate thoughts and turbulent flux of emotion that individuals experience as they connect, as their destinies interlace, as their lives are irrevocably altered. People disappear; people are transformed. Peck's prose is piercing with precision--here are broken people, and here is what might heal them. "
~ Claire Wilkshire, author of The Love Olympics and Maxine