21 October 2021

Broken People by Sam Lansky

I am pretty positive I read about Sam Lansky's Broken People on a "best of" list, but there is also a pretty good chance I bought it on the cover alone... Regardless, I read Broken People during the last month of summer vacation and it wasn't as depressing as the title may suggest.

Lansky's debut novel is barely over 300 pages and I would say I read it fairly quickly. The story focuses on Sam - a depressed 30ish-year-old living in Los Angeles trying to write a follow-up to his drug memoir. One night, while out to dinner, he hears about a shaman who performs "open-soul surgery" and cures you of yourself in just three days. 

The great curse of being a person in the world - you only ever get to be yourself." 

Sam's character is kind of unbearable. He is obsessed with his body fat and overthinks every single interaction he is faced with. His annoyingness was starting to impact how I felt about the book until he finally gets to the shaman. Once there, they start the "ceremony" and the rest of the book is Sam recounting his failed relationships and memories. This is where things really picked up for me and I began enjoying the book a lot more. 

Sam talks about a few boyfriends, but the one most important to him is definitely Charles. This is Sam's longest relationship and the one that haunts him the most during the ceremony. The author does a good job of crafting their relationship. Right from the start you can tell Sam thinks it's too good to be true, and you know his anxiety and self-consciousness is going to destroy their relationship. I love the way the memories come to Sam and how he fights to try and push them away. 

But Sam didn't want to remember that. It didn't fit the narrative he had chosen - the story about how everything had been perfect in the beginning. He wanted everything that came later to come as a surprise; he didn't want to scour the past for the red flags he'd missed, those auguries of pain to come. He could excavate the deep and the dark later. He wasn't ready yet."

Sam Lansky

I think Lansky was smart to make Sam a writer. Usually I find this to be an overused trope, but the way he looks back at his memories and analyzes them really works for the book. A big part of his breakup is that his partner is uncomfortable with him sharing all of his life (specifically his addict years) with the world. I feel that today everyone is encouraged to "share their story" and it can feel a bit much. I'm sure this is an issue all writers face, and I liked that it was incorporated into the relationship storyline. 

I had a writing teacher who told me, it's not about what you remember - it's about why you remember it that way."

My favourite books always involve a great deal of reflection by the narrator. I find I prefer to read a book that "looks back" rather than one that is set in (and stays in) the present. As much as I found Broken People to be a bit middling, if you also like reflective writing than you'll probably enjoy it about as much as I did. 

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