In Christie Hodgen's gorgeously written novel "Elegies for the Brokenhearted," narrator and protagonist Mary Murphy reflects on five people who have shaped who she has become. Most of the book is written in second person, as she looks back on the time she spent with these people.
Mary is a woman who struggles to find herself. She comes from a poor background --"a family of bad citizens. Drunk drivers and tax evaders, people who parked in handicapped spaces and failed to return shopping carts to their collection stands." She remembers her loving uncle, who was "the chump, the slouch, the drunk, the bum, the forever-newly-employed," a man who couldn't quite find the love he needed. She remembers Elwood LePoer, the town idiot, who was "dumb as a stick, a sock, a bag of rocks," but who indirectly caused her mother to meet a man who was good to Mary, for which she was grateful.
She remembers her college roommate, Carson Washington, a girl with a larger-than-life personality who asked her if she had any idea "what it meant to be fat, to be black ... what a drag it was sometimes, what a lack." She remembers James Butler, a gay pianist who had his heart broken and left Juilliard to move to Ogunquit, Maine, where he spent the rest of his life playing piano in a bar. She remembers her stunningly beautiful mother, a woman who marries many times, who at one point in her life was "savvy, sarcastic, brutal."
Christie Hodgen is a sculptor of sentences. Her words brim with the weight of memory, an incantation that pays homage to the deceased in all of their flawed beauty.
At one point in the novel, Mary acknowledges the significance of all kinds of relationships. "What matters is home, that we look at each other, really look at each other, and say to each other, You are what matters to me, you are home."
Her memories are infused with a calm knowledge of what she has learned from the mistakes of others. "I'd come to believe that what joined two people wasn't blood, or fate, or signals granted from on high -- what joined people together were the small actions they performed for each other each day." Every moment in life, Hodgen seems to be saying, can be of the utmost importance to someone.
Michele Filgate is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She lives in New Hampshire.