With an area population of nearly 10 million, it’s easy to focus on some of Los Angeles’ more beautiful and prestigious residents. But Broken, written by J. Matthew Nespoli, takes a look into the morbid lives of the underrepresented and unlucky.
Nespoli’s novel follows 14 individuals whose lives of constant struggle somehow become intertwined. Although Broken gives numerous different perspectives of dreaming through despair, it feels that some perspectives are not entirely necessary. The conflicts and backgrounds of several characters aren’t all that unique in relation to each other.
Take characters Dylan and T.J., for instance. Both start out with low-paying jobs and never really succeed in their goals of being a writer and an actor, respectively. Both characters essentially feel the same about their positions and seem to represent the same failed spirit as they strive to find love in the world and fix their miserable lives.
The book becomes convoluted by all of the despondent characters, several of whom play nearly similar roles.
Beth, a pregnant girl with two gay fathers, and Amber, a lesbian stripper who was raped years earlier, provide a more contrasting pair. Amber helps take care of Beth as an older sister would, while Beth tries to find a source of income.
Eventually, Beth bears a child named Jonathan and she and Amber — who already has a young daughter named Kimberly — have to deal with raising their children without father figures. At this point, many of the contrasts between Beth and Amber are lost.
Broken does, however, succeed in presenting a detailed and vivid image of how the characters’ seemingly simple lives can be both tedious and dramatic.
Skye, for example, is a heroin addict who was raped by her father as a child and continues to suffer from this experience. While her life revolves largely around drugs and attempts at rock stardom, it is sad to see her never-ending struggle with addiction play out. Even after the book’s climax where she finally decides to go cold turkey and suffers through days of withdrawal, Skye eventually returns to drugs.
Nespoli’s writing style is easy to follow, and, with constant references to films and familiar media, Broken is definitely written for a contemporary generation. He also spares no details on what the characters feel, both physically and emotionally — no matter how unsettling it might be.
Nespoli’s characters dwell on unresolved issues and regret earlier life decisions, making the characters believable.
The common thread between the characters, however, is that they all wallow in self-hatred, self-pity and otherwise melancholy images of themselves. Most of the conflicts in the book are based around sex, love and drugs. And to some extent, this limits the scope of the narrative.
Because it is written in first person through each character, the reader is never removed from Nespoli’s dreary perceptions of life. This creates a theme of depression — as the book’s title suggests — though it would have been nice if these views were contrasted against more hopeful moments.
In some instances, the characters find themselves dealing with the more successful individuals of Los Angeles. Early on, Dylan is introduced as working at a restaurant called Crustaceans in Beverly Hills. Through his eyes, the rich and wealthy are shallow and morally void.
This seems to be the case in the story, as exemplified by Jackson, a wealthy, retired professional football player. He is the man who impregnated Beth after a one-night stand and seems capable of only lustful love. As with the other characters, he is emotionally damaged.
By the end of the book, there is some resolution, and a few of the troubled characters have fixed things in their life. As with any dramas, it seems their lives could hit obstacles further in the future. Nespoli, after all, doesn’t simply give these characters single-path lives.