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Breakable You
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Breakable You

4.5 2
by Brian Morton

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Adam Weller is a moderately successful novelist, past his prime, but squiring around a much younger woman and still longing for greater fame and glory. His former wife, Eleanor, is unhappily playing the role of the overweight, discarded woman. Their daughter Maud has just begun a frankly sexual affair that unexpectedly becomes life-changing. Into each of


Adam Weller is a moderately successful novelist, past his prime, but squiring around a much younger woman and still longing for greater fame and glory. His former wife, Eleanor, is unhappily playing the role of the overweight, discarded woman. Their daughter Maud has just begun a frankly sexual affair that unexpectedly becomes life-changing. Into each of these lives the past intrudes in a way that will test them to their core. With perfect pitch and a rare empathy, Brian Morton is equally adept at portraying the life of the mind and how it plays out in the world, brilliantly tracing the border between honor and violation. Here Morton tells his strongest story yet—a story about love, friendship, literary treachery, and what each of us owes to the past.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"For some readers, Brian Morton may still be an undiscovered treasure. He won’t be for long." – Newsday

"The passion of Morton’s characters ring true . . . because the romantic ones conflict with such things as professional ambition and jealously." –Chicago Tribune

Publishers Weekly
While the story of two broken couples-one by infidelity, one by tragedy-contains a number of maudlin moments, this polished novel's touchy-feely title belies the trenchant humor of its take on contemporary New York, especially its literary scene. Adam Weller-one of the more engaging scoundrels in recent fiction-is an aging, semirenowned novelist whose star is on the wane. Petty, egocentric and devious, he has left his wife, Eleanor, for a beautiful, ambitious younger woman, Thea. Through a series of improbable events, he acquires a late rival's long-lost, unpublished manuscript, a masterpiece which he appropriates and sells as his own, in hopes of reviving his flagging career. Eleanor, an Upper West Side therapist, struggles to recover from their breakup, even as an old college sweetheart tries to reconnect with her. Meanwhile, their daughter, Maud, a philosophy grad student with a history of depression, enters into an unlikely but intense affair with Samir, a man haunted by the death of his young daughter from a previous marriage. The interwoven plots proceed briskly toward what could be a spectacularly melodramatic climax, but despite occasional contrivances, Morton (Starting Out in the Evening) brings the novel to a quietly moving conclusion. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The New York Sun

"[Morton] is a deeply compassionate writer, unafraid to treat the largest themes...in an earnest, generous spirit."

— Adam Kirsch

Library Journal
A so-so, middle-aged novelist dotes on a much younger beauty, as his former wife languishes and his daughter retaliates by launching a wild affair. From the author of the award-winning Starting Out in the Evening. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The pressures of the examined life reshape priorities and relationships among an expanding and contracting extended family of urban intellectuals. Morton's fourth novel (A Window Across the River, 2003, etc.) moves with brisk efficiency among linked subplots concerning respected literary novelist Adam Weller (63, and involved with a much younger woman), his resentful ex Eleanor (a psychologist) and their youngest child, Maud, a lecturer and Ph.D. candidate in philosophy with a history of inchoate commitments and nervous breakdowns. Maud seems to be emerging from her lifelong fragility when she falls for Samir, an Arab-American carpenter whose continuing sorrow over the death of his three-year-old daughter will be gradually assuaged after Maud informs him she's pregnant. Eleanor, obese and depressed, stubbornly resists the chance for happiness offered by Patrick, who has spent his life as a labor activist, but reserved the energy to pursue her again, even after 40 years. Meanwhile, the wily Adam (a self-justifying careerist whose expressive egotism is reminiscent of more than one Saul Bellow character) sees an opportunity to embellish his reputation when Ruth, widow of eminent novelist (and Adam's mentor) Isidore Cantor, produces the completed manuscript of her husband's "unknown" novel, then dies-before anyone but Adam knows of the book's existence. Abetted by his brazen mistress Thea (employed as an assistant to TV interviewer Charlie Rose), Adam-as usual-thrives. Others around him are less fortunate. Eleanor settles for sublimating her happiness in tending others' needs. Maud loses one great love, gains another and-paradoxically-acquires a wisdom beyond her elders' grasp. A philosopherto the core, she assures another afflicted soul (her wheelchair-bound confidant Ralph) that "We must imagine Sisyphus happy"; and, drawing the inevitable conclusion, accepts that "The law of life . . . is striving."Precisely observed characters, keen prose and a sure sense of how we simultaneously complicate and survive our lives make this one something special.
"For some readers, Brian Morton may still be an undiscovered treasure. He won't be for long."
Chicago Tribune
"The passions of Morton's characters ring true...because the romantic ones conflict with such things as professional ambition and jealousy."
Wall Street Journal
"Breakable You...is written and imagined with a sure touch that achieves a somber beauty."
Atlantic Monthly
"Morton...recognizes that meaning is expressed mostly through subtleties...[he] is especially skilled with subtle humor."
The Palm Beach Post
"Breakable You embodies a rare lyricism—not the lyricism of the literary, but the lyricism of life itself."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Morton is the rare writer equally invested in people and ideas."
Connecticut Post
"Entertain from first page to last because the characters are so full of life and humor."
"In this polished, affecting novel, [the characters'] stories intertwine and uplift."
New York Times Book Review
"As in his previous novels, Morton evokes the physical and psychological landscape of New York in swift satirical strokes...Terrible fates befall some of Morton's characters, undeserved; he seems, at times, to bring them to life only to make them suffer. It's a complaint usually reserved for a higher power, and a tribute to Morton's craft: conjuring up lives so vivid the reader mourns their passing."
New Yorker
"This packed novel about the vagaries of love and grief takes place in a New York straight out of Woody Allen...Inside his broad comedy of manners is a hearfelt novel about the redemptive power of suffering."

People Magazine
"In this polished, affecting novel, [the characters'] stories intertwine and uplift."
"For some readers, Brian Morton may still be an undiscovered treasure. He won't be for long."
The New York Sun - Adam Kirsch
"[Morton] is a deeply compassionate writer, unafraid to treat the largest themes...in an earnest, generous spirit."

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


As she watched her husband walk toward her, Eleanor Weller searched for signs of his recent accident, didn’t find any, and wasn’t sure whether she was relieved or disappointed. She had expected him to be limping, or walking with a cane, or, more dramatically, listing, like an injured ship, but he looked as brisk and confident as ever.

He kissed her on the cheek. They had been separated long enough for her to find this endurable. Every other time she’d seen him during the past year, she’d held herself stiffly at a distance, sickened by the thought of coming into contact with him in any way.

He took her arm, grasping it too tightly, as was his habit, and led her into the restaurant. She was stunned that she allowed herself to be led in this fashion, after everything.

“You’re looking well,” he said, but she knew it wasn’t true. Since he’d left her she’d been steadily gaining weight, about two pounds a month, and now she had become the kind of woman who wears baggy dresses to mask her girth—a tactic that never, of course, works.

“You too,” she said, and this was true. Adam had always looked well, and ever since he had left her for a woman who was younger than their daughter, he’d been looking better than ever.

“I’m glad we can do this,” he said.

“Do what?”

“Get together. Without hostilities.”

“Why?” she said, not concerned about whether there was hostility in her tone.

“Because of everything we’ve meant to each other. Because of our history. Because of our children.”

“Well, fine,” she said. When they were seated, she drew a thick file folder from her bag. “Why don’t we get started?”

A waiter took their orders, and Eleanor noticed that Adam had changed his style of eating. He’d ordered eggs Benedict with sausages and home fries. He wasn’t being careful anymore. When they’d lived together she’d kept him on a low-fat diet to protect his heart.

He looked over the papers her lawyer had prepared. He’d seen them already, but he evidently wanted to make sure that the agreement she was asking him to sign was the same one she’d faxed him earlier in the week.

He read through it quickly. She remembered the first few times she’d watched him reading, more than thirty-five years earlier— remembered how startled she’d been by the sheer speed of it.

In the beginning— for many years, really— she’d been excited even by the way he read. She had loved him that much. And yet he’d chosen to throw all that away.

She reminded herself to stay focused. She didn’t want to be distracted from what she needed to get from this encounter.

She was unhappy that she wanted to get anything from him, anything at all. It went against her nature. She would have preferred to sever all relations with him, never see him again. But she needed him to keep paying for her health insurance, and she needed him to sign over their apartment to her, and she needed him to supplement her income, and she needed him to make provisions for their daughter.

She disliked herself for all this. Her friends had told her that there was no cause for self-criticism, much less self-loathing. They said she deserved anything she could get from Adam, since she’d prepared the ground for his success by supporting him for all those years. Not supporting him financially, but supporting him by giving him time and space and quiet in which to work, raising the children virtually on her own. And it wasn’t as if she were asking for a big piece of what he had: she was asking for far less than what she was entitled to by law.

He finished reading the agreement and put it aside. “The only thing that still bothers me,” he said, “is the part about Maud.”

“We’ve been through all that. Just sign it.”

“We have been through all that, but I still think you’re making a mistake. She doesn’t need special treatment— and treating her like a person who does need special treatment is the surest way to infantilize her.”

Infantilize. What a ridiculous word. She had a moment of grim pleasure in noting that even he, the great Weller, could speak in clichés, but it was a paltry triumph, as if catching him in the act of using an awkward word could remedy the imbalance of power between them.

“She needs extra help,” was all Eleanor said.

Eleanor and Adam had two sons and a daughter. Their boys, Carl and Josh, were doing well: married, with healthy children, good jobs, rooted in the world. Maud, their youngest—she was twenty-nine—was bright and independent-minded and radiantly lively, but she seemed to be missing something. She seemed to be in short supply of some quality that was mysterious and unnameable, but that was indispensable if you were to navigate your way through life uncapsized.
Maud had had two breakdowns: one during her first semester in college, one just after she’d graduated. She’d been institutionalized on both occasions. Nothing comparable had happened to her since then, and the second one was eight years in the past, but after you’ve seen your daughter fall apart, you can’t stop worrying that she’ll fall apart again. You can’t, at least, if you’re a mother. A father evidently can.

The waiter brought their food. Eleanor had ordered a grapefruit, but when he set it down in front of her she remembered that she wasn’t supposed to eat grapefruit. Her doctor had told her that they intensified the effect of the medications she was taking. She hadn’t eaten one in months, but this morning she’d ordered it on automatic pilot, since she used to like to share a grapefruit with Adam when they had breakfast together in the old days.

“I’m not going to fight you on this,” Adam said, “but I want to put it on record that I think you’re making a mistake.”

“It’s duly noted. Sign it.”

He removed a pen from one of the inner pockets of his sport jacket. It was a fountain pen—a Montblanc. A very expensive pen, which must have been a birthday present from Thea. Not a present that made sense for him: he was always losing pens, and he’d surely lose this one within a month. Eleanor had another flush of shabby triumph: he’s left me for a woman who doesn’t understand what he needs.

But she couldn’t actually be so sure. Adam did look better than he had in years. He was sixty-three but he could have passed for fifty. Eleanor was fifty-nine, and feared she could have passed for seventy. “What have you been up to?” he said. “How’s work?” Eleanor was a psychologist. She used to tell him stories about her clients, but her sense of professional ethics had grown keener over the years and she’d finally stopped telling him anything. He never seemed to have noticed the change.

“Busy,” she said. “Very busy.”

“I’ve been busy too. My little vacation already seems like a distant memory. I would have liked to stay longer in France, but after I broke my ankle I didn’t trust French medicine to fix me up. It was a wonderful week, though. We were—”
She put her hand on his.

“Adam. I didn’t ask you what you’ve been doing. I don’t want to know. You hurt me very deeply, and I don’t want to hear about any of your ‘wonderful’ weeks. I don’t want to hear about any of your wonderful minutes.”

“Fair enough. I suppose there isn’t anything left to say, then.”

“I suppose not,” she said.

Since all of your minutes are wonderful now, she thought.

“I hope you won’t mind if I order another cup of coffee.”

While he drank his coffee she tried to keep silent, but she wasn’t sure she could. She had always played the role of family peacemaker, even when she didn’t want to. She found it impossible to let a tense silence go on too long. She could do it with her clients, but she couldn’t do it with people she loved, and, despite everything he’d put her through, she still loved Adam. She didn’t trust him; she didn’t like him; she would never consider getting back together with him; but she had lived the largest part of her life with him, and they were joined forever through their children, and she knew she’d never be able to stop loving him.

“Maud should be getting her Ph.D. in the spring,” she said.

“I know. She made me write down the date of the convocation.”

“She wants you to be proud of her.”

“I am proud of her. And I wish I could be there. I haven’t had the heart to tell her yet, but unfortunately I’m already committed to this Jewish book festival in Prague.”

Copyright © 2006 by Brian Morton

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy,
recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Meet the Author

BRIAN MORTON is the author of four previous novels, including Starting Out in the Evening, which was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and was made into an acclaimed feature film, and A Window Across the River, which was a Book Club selection of the Today show. He teaches at New York University, the Bennington Writing Seminars, and Sarah Lawrence College, where he also directs the writing program. He lives in New York.

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Breakable You 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An absolutely perfect book. I haven't read anything this beautiful in a long time. I read it in less than a day and was utterly moved by it.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
Author Brian Morton returns to New York, a setting he painted to perfection in A Window Across The River (2003 ). Once again his characters are fully realized, passionate, funny, and flawed, perhaps microcosms of ourselves. Adam Weller is 63 years old, a novelist, and some may say hectored, others may say encouraged by his younger ambitious mistress, Thea. She's new to the City and the ways of it. Incredibly beautiful she's a former high school beauty queen and Miss Junior Wyoming. Now working as an assistant producer for Charlie Rose, she likes to call Adam by his last name because 'she thought it made her sound cynical and worldly like Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not.' However, what Adam needs is a bestseller, not reminders that he's a has been. His former wife, Eleanor, suffers from his rejection, although she was aware of his previous affairs she had not expected him to leave. Adam had left 'because of the explosive combination of Thea and viagra.' Although she's a psychologist, Eleanor is overweight and resentful, initially spurning the approach of the first man she loved and left for Adam. Maud, Adam and Eleanor's daughter, is a rather fey spirit who is deeply immersed in her studies of philosophy. She suffers from depression and seems committed to the life of a student until she meets Samir, an Arab American, with whom she begins a torrid affair. Fate has a way of intervening in Adam's life when the promising manuscript of a late colleague comes into his hands. The man was his mentor and friend yet Adam takes the manuscript as his own. The intermeshed lives of these people provide the plot lines in this remarkable novel, subtly crafted, unforgettably wise. - Gail Cooke