Though its title may evoke thoughts of lost love, don’t expect any romantic narratives in “Elegies for the Brokenhearted,” the story of a woman’s life told through the elegies of five people who have died during her lifetime, from a minor summer friend to her neglectful mother. In these elegies, readers are able to see the joys and follies of life, and that no matter how distant your family members may seem, they live on through the ways in which they shape you. Through Mary Murphy, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, we see the struggles that come with the search for identity or family and the natural longing for human connection.
The novel is not as depressing as the title may suggest. I found myself laughing out loud at certain parts, especially when Murphy describes her college years and her relationship with her college roommate. Author Christie Hodgen has a knack for creating quirky yet lifelike characters who may seem strange at first, but provide an intimate look at good and bad relationships and their effects on others.
The novel begins with Murphy telling her life story through the elegy of her beloved, alcoholic uncle who, like most people in Murphy’s life, disappeared and reappeared depending on jobs, drugs, alcohol and women. The second elegy is about Elwood LePoer, Murphy’s laughable high school acquaintance who, despite his low IQ and general oafish behavior, had a lasting impact on her life. By way of LePoer’s pitiful story, Murphy describes her teenage years and what led her to college. The story of Murphy’s college years is told through the elegy of her first-year roommate, Carson Washington, a poor woman with a huge secret covered up through many hilarious interactions between the two seemingly opposite women. After college, Murphy’s search for family and connection leads her to Maine, where she befriends a performer at a piano bar who has failed at what he wants to do the most and lives miserably in middle age. The final elegy is of Murphy’s beautiful, five-times-married and born-again Christian mother, whose story is as devastating as it is alluring.
No matter how horrible the characters might seem in this novel — populated mostly by alcoholics, cheaters, drug abusers and mothers who neglect their children — Hodgen captures each character’s redeeming qualities, creating a full view of the complexities of life.