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Whatisskyereading: "Hysterically, laugh-out-loud, funny in a totally morbid way"

Date: Apr 21 2010

It continually amazes me how even the most formulaic novel can be enlivened by one good character. This is very much the case with Alina Bronsky's Broken Glass Park. The narrator of Broken Glass Park is a precocious seventeen-year-old girl named Sascha (short for Alexandra). She, and her narration, are hysterically, laugh-out-loud, funny, in, of course, a totally morbid way. Sascha has been scarred terribly by an abusive stepfather who shot her mother and her mother's boyfriend in plain view of her and her siblings. Not one for profound psychological insight, Sascha has two goals in life: one, to kill her mother's murderer, and two, to write a novel about her mother. She has also sworn off men forever, although, not surprisingly, she falls for the first semi-functional father figure she encounters, and several times uses her sexuality to punish herself. The thing that separates her from most seventeen-year-old girls is that when she uses her sexuality to punish herself, she is aware of what she is doing, explicitly comparing herself to classmates who starve themselves or self-injure. That's pretty much what separates Sascha from seventeen-year-old girls generally: although not psychologically astute, she understands her drives and motives (with the notable exception of falling for the older father figure).

To observe the hubbub surrounding this novel is to acknowledge just how rare the self-aware seventeen-year-old girl is in literature. This is a shame, and it is a void that needs filling. Broken Glass Park is an extremely good, well-written, novel no doubt, but the fact that a seventeen-year-old girl can be self-aware should not be the revelation the critics have made it out to be. That it has been such a revelation shows only that there is a job yet to be done by those of us who have pretensions to writing our own novels.