In Brian Morton’s previous novel, A Window Across the River, a couple faced with an unplanned pregnancy chose to abort the child, and consequently broke up. In his newest, Breakable You, a couple faced with the same circumstance decide to bring the baby into the world. Though one might be tempted to think this situation would result in a saccharine, optimistic novel, one would not have read Brian Morton.
Morton has staked out the territory of Upper West Side New York Jewish intellectuals grappling with their life choices. The real author has one of his fictional writers muse,
“It was the book in which he’d worked most effectively within his own limitations, the book in which he’d turned his limitations most successfully into virtues. In that book his temperamental lack of charity had been perfectly suited to his subject and his theme. His habitual coldness was exactly what that book had needed. Writing it, he had been like a surgeon, of whom we don’t require empathy but only the knowledge of how to cut.”
Morton’s description of his fictional writer, with his need to know “how to cut,” can be applied to Brian Morton as well. In the slices he carves of the lives of his characters, with their flaws and attempts to be whole, he achieves a wholeness, though without the “peace of a happy ending.”
Breakable You ends, tellingly, with the word “family.” In Morton’s previous novel, the characters end up alone, while here despite the obstacles and suffering, they attempt to knit themselves into the flawed structure that is the human family. The reader has a remarkable opportunity to watch Morton create this fractured structure in Breakable You.
Beth Kissileff is in the process of fundraising and writing grants to develop a program to assist rabbis of all denominations with writing and publishing books. Kissileff is a rabbinic spouse and author of the novel Questioning Return as well as editor of the anthology Reading Genesis: Beginings.