Until that fateful afternoon, Skunk Cunningham had been a normal little girl, playing on the curb in front of her house. Rick Buckley had been a normal geeky teenager, hosing off his brand-new car. Bob Oswald had been a normal sociopathic single father of five slutty daughters, charging furiously down the sidewalk. Then Bob was beating Rick to a bloody pulp, right there in the Buckleys' driveway, and life on Drummond Square was never the same again.
Inspired by Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Clay's brilliantly observed and darkly funny novel follows the sudden unravelling of a suburban community after a single act of thoughtless cruelty.
Broken is set within and peopled by the various families who call Drummond Square home. Eleven year old Skunk is not the title character, however this is her story. After watching Rick Buckley being beaten brutally by god-awful neighbour Bob Oswald, and then hauled away by police, Skunk becomes fixated upon Rick as he returns to Drummond Square ‘Broken’. Tormented by the five Oswald daughters daily, and watching her father as he interacts with both the Buckley's and the Oswald's, Skunk finds herself drawn in and repulsed by the going-on’s around her. However this story is being told in the past-tense, from a hospital bed where Skunk lies in a coma and fighting for her life.
As Broken begins by letting the reader know that Skunk is lying in a coma, but not what brought her there, I could not help but be intrigued. The entire story seems to thrive on finding out just how this little girl arrived in the hospital. The first half of the book, which focuses on Rick ‘Broken’ Buckley and the Oswald families reign of neighbourly terror, is interesting enough in it’s ordinariness to keep a reader intrigued. But what really stands out is the many different views Skunks has of the small world around her. Her vulnerability is obvious as she pleads with her father for an allowance increase, without letting him know it is to pay off the Oswald bullies who demand school ground safekeeping money; her embarrassing acceptance of a new teacher, her housekeepers ex-boyfriend, who she had heard in intimate situations and also her fears of both the Oswald family and Broken, the boy they destroyed.
While Skunk appears to be a watcher to the troubles happening in her world, you are aware that something has happened to harm her, and this is what makes the story so readable. It is a story that shows how things build upon one another to create disaster in a place removed from the original circumstance. It seems to be all about connections and how small things have a way of reaching out and ensnaring the innocent bystander. It’s hard to remember while reading that Skunk is in a coma, but this is her story of how she went from being a mere spectator to the final tragic figure of a little girl fighting death.
I found Broken to be a highly readable novel, it’s pacing is measured out well and the characters have the right blend of realism and individuality. I really enjoyed knowing what the end result was but having to read and progress through the story to find out the why’s and how’s. This is a very large story set within a very small set of people, the strength of the read for me, came from knowing that tiny but powerful dramas could be happening on any average cul-de-sac you drive by.
About The Author
Daniel Clay is thirty-seven years old and lives with his wife, Alison, in Hedge End, a small town between Southampton and Portsmouth on the south coast of England. He's had short stories and poetry published in magazines such as The Ashes, World Wide Writers, Writers' Forum, and Roundyhouse, and has written a series of articles at the blog Fifth Estate on why he writes and how his first novel, Broken, came to be published. He is presently working on his second novel.
Published by Harper Perennial
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