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Summary: POWERFUL & COMPELLING -- PROMISES KEPT...
Review: ...those promises to which the quality of Marlin Barton's previously-published short fiction (see his short story collection THE DRY WELL) alluded. All of them have been kept, and beautifully, in this, his first novel. A BROKEN THING is the story - stories, actually - of an extended family, the joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains the various members enjoy, endure and inflict upon each other and themselves. What makes it so compelling - and I dare you to turn away from it once you begin - is that, as others have noted elsewhere, one of these people (or ALL of them) could be us. There is an 'everyman' quality to each of the characters so vividly drawn here - and yet at the same time they are each resoundingly individual, painfully and delightfully human. These could be the people next door or down the hall - or across the dinner table.
Barton's vision and experiences of growing up and living in the American South resonate clearly, long after the book is read and put away. The life passages down which these characters walk, the dreams they dare to dream (and ache to let go), the ties that bind them and wedge them apart, the loves that make and break them, are made as real by the author's prose as anyone you can reach out and touch. None of them are perfect souls - they never come across as the false inventions of a writer attempting to please everyone - but there are things about each and every one of them that are admirable, even if they have to wrong others and themselves on the road to finding their way.
As the story progresses, not only are we treated to the exhilarating experience of getting to know these amazing people - we are privileged to see them get to know, to understand, each other, to learn to live with and appreciate their differences, and to come to know themselves as well. All of this 'education' is the stuff of life, of growing older - and, hopefully, wiser - and rarely have I seen it presented in such an intelligent and moving manner. This is the mark of a writer who not only excels at his craft (his use of multiple points-of-view is very skillful, and suits the novel perfectly), but one who cares for the people he grew up with, indeed for all those with whom he shares the world. He respects them - and his characters - for what they are, for what they have to offer each other, for their place in the scheme of things.
Writing like this is a treat - I can't recommend this novel (or his short story collection) highly enough, and I can't wait to read more.
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