Thursday, April 7, 2016

Review: "Breaking and Entering" by Joy Williams

Joy Williams’ Breaking and Entering is a novel I have read dozens of times before, but that doesn’t mean it is not worth your time. It rarely sheds new light on its subject matter, but it follows the well-worn path with such grace and talent, your quick to forgive it for treading familiar ground. It is rather fragmentary novel with a loose plot, and it struggles some times to connect all the dots, so a lot of the minor details get lost in the shuffle. But the good and sometimes great thing is that some of those dots are magnificent and stand on their own without the need for backstory or context. These can be weird and slightly off-putting (not the best kind of book to read on a dark plane back to Indianapolis), but they also contain great reserves of beauty and empathy. The novel focuses on a couple, Willie and Liberty, two clean-cut vagrants who travel across Florida, break in to vacation homes that are unoccupied and live in them for a time before moving on. They interact with a wide variety of charming grotesque losers who share their sense of spacial displacement and societal uselessness, even if Willie and Liberty try to distance themselves from them, and eventually each other. As I said, these scenes are intriguing, but very off-putting, the best ones being at the beginning and the end, where they first meet Duane, an old lonely man finally happy to have someone to speak his weird ideas at, and finally Poe, easily the best character in this novel: an elderly female bodybuilder, also lonely, who asks inappropriate questions of the couple, and inundates them with her sad life story. The melancholy, pathos and humor of her speeches mix sublimely. Not the most cohesive novel you can find, but one with a lot of heart and deep knowledge and understanding of its maligned subject material. 
Rating: 4/5

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