"You will be a stranger among strangers, my mother said and I could feel the charge run through her. Why can't a woman be more than one person in a lifetime? she continued. Why can't she be two or three?"
Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey takes place in a Northern backwoods known as The Territory. There, a cult like community of 391 people live in total seclusion from the outside world. Led by the ideas of their long-dead leader, they inhabit identical concrete bungalows, follow strict gender roles, and think it’s still 1985, which is apparent by their love for Van Halen and Whitesnake tapes that blast from their identical matte black pickup trucks.
The story begins when Billie Jean Fontaine drives off in the Fontaine family truck, leaving behind her daughter Pony, her husband The Heavy, and her fiercely loyal dog Gena Rowlands. Through three different perspectives, Pony, Gena (yes the dog) and Pony’s crush, Supernatural, Billie’s plurality is revealed to the reader; her alienness as a fairly new member of the community, her female desires, faults and her struggle with motherhood.
The community survives each harsh winter thanks to the unique and valuable export; teenage blood. Each child, upon entering their teen years must also give blood regularly. The women of the Territory are the ones that harvest it. They must wear their pastel dresses when harvesting blood, not to be confused with their house work attire or their nighttime wear. Clothing for women is one of the aspects of the gender roles that these members follow blindly, especially the females. Men are given nicknames as they enter their teen years, names that are supposed to define their moral character. Their birth names are forgotten.
Despite the strangeness, this is one of the most human and raw stories I have read to date. Dey has such a unique and gorgeous writing style, one that kept my eyes glued to the page, hungry for every sentence she fed me. This novel explores the love, devotion and confusion within a mother daughter relationship with vivid, colorful and honest prose, as Pony and the rest of the community search for a women they realize they knew very little about. Pony desperately seeks to understand her mother while trying not to lose hope they she will ever return.
The tone in this novel is a very specific one, one that all at once is dark, mysterious and sultry. Sex and desire are weaved tightly through the plot as these members are constantly driven by their sexuality, the exploration of it, the need for those they can not have. Young Pony is right in the middle of it, her adolescent exploration of drugs, sex and freedom a theme in the forefront of the novel, all inspired by the need to connect with her mother.
“I wanted the reader to feel the cold of the west wind, mud heavy on the cuffs of their jeans, their heart in their throat. I wanted the book to feel alive,” said Dey in a recent interview with Write or Die Tribe. Alive. That is exactly how I would describe Heartbreaker. So alive, that I after finishing the final page, I missed the characters like old friends. I wanted to start all over again with them, this band of outsiders.
By Claudia Dey
261 pages. 2018