There's an old saying that hearts are made to be broken because that's how the light comes in. Seattle writer Stephanie Kallos draws upon this wisdom in her debut novel, a story of growth and redemption filled with a delightfully offbeat cast of characters.
Margaret Hughes, a wealthy septuagenarian, has lived alone in her Capitol Hill mansion for 30 years surrounded by thousands of priceless china dishes and figurines. The booty, along with the family fortune, came from Margaret's father's dealings with the Third Reich during the 1930s and '40s, and Margaret can still hear the ghosts that reside within each piece. Diagnosed with a brain tumor, she decides to open her door to the world before she dies. Through this crack in her sealed existence comes Wanda, a woman in her thirties who has traveled across the continent in search of her wayward boyfriend. Wanda's past is no less tragic than Margaret's, and the two begin a slow and halting dance of kinship. When the younger woman displays an uncanny knack for piecing together broken dishes, their shared story is set in motion, a story that acknowledges and accepts brokenness as a necessary part of life.
When Margaret allows Wanda to enter her world, others come along as well. As Margaret muses, "Once the door is open, you can't shut it again." To Kallos' credit, even the minor characters feel developed and fully human. Because they are so numerous, the ensemble characters may go missing through a few chapters, but taken as a whole they illustrate the graces in a circle of friends.
Kallos writes in a chatty, breezy style that fits the quirkiness of the characters. Some of her observations are laugh-out-loud funny while others pierce the soul. Through it all, she wrestles with issues of relationship, using shards of broken pots as metaphor for our broken selves. There's an almost magical feeling to this story, as unplanned events and coincidences move things forward, but the whimsy is mixed with the earnestness of people trying to build an intentional community together. Ultimately, Kallos asks us to examine how we assign value to the things and the people around us. Is a flawless object more valuable than a broken vessel that holds a lifetime of stories? While the marketplace may have different ideas, Kallos sees the dings and the cracks in all our facades as the sites of richest meaning.