Breaking Out of Bedlam

Breaking Out of Bedlam

by Leslie Larson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307460776
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 03/01/2011
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,244,658
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

LESLIE LARSON is the author of the novel Slipstream, which won the Astraea Award for Fiction. She lives in Berkeley, California.

Read an Excerpt

THE BLANK BOOK

I got this book from my granddaughter Emma. The cover looks like a gunny sack. It has a dried purple flower on the front, and all the pages are blank. It’s supposed to be pretty. The purple pen that goes with it is squishy, like chewed-up gum. “So it doesn’t hurt your hand, Gamma,” Emma said. I laughed, thinking where my hand has been these eighty-two years, and what it’s done. I was polite, though, and asked her real nice what in the world I’m supposed to do with it. “It’s for your thoughts,” she said. “If you have any memories or reflections you want to write down. Or a poem, maybe, or a sentiment you think is meaningful.”

That girl has always worked my last nerve.

They all feel guilty for putting me here, so they’re trying to keep me from losing my mind. I also got a jigsaw puzzle (one of the biggest wastes of time I can think of) and an embroidery set (which I have always hated) for Christmas. My son Dean even gave me a paint-by-numbers kit with three kinds of dogs: a poodle, a collie, and a German shepherd. Do they think I am retarded? That I’ve gone back to my childhood?

They don’t know the first thing about me.

I put those other gifts down in the day room and they got snapped up like nobody’s business. I tucked this book in my top drawer thinking I could tear the pages out if I needed some blank paper. It’s thick as a damn Bible. I don’t know who in their right mind could ever fill it. Then this morning I got up early, when the light was just starting to come through the blinds. Usually my pills knock me out ‘til breakfast, when the walkers and wheelchairs make a slow-motion stampede for the dining room. But this morning was quiet. Nobody calling out from their bed, or knocking a mop around. The phones at the nurses’ station weren’t ringing yet, the gardeners weren’t running their leaf blowers, and the delivery trucks weren’t idling outside my window.

This morning I sat straight up in bed like somebody called my name. Lots of times I can’t get out of bed at all. I stay there all day, dozing and waking up, dozing and waking up. I might swallow a few more of my little darlings to settle my nerves. Sometimes whole chunks of the day disappear. Fine by me. But today I woke clear as a bell. I did my bathroom business, sat down here at my dressing table, and started to write.

I got a plan. I’m going to write down everything I ever wanted to say. I’m not holding nothing back and I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks. Most people don’t tell the truth about their lives, including me. I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I lied to keep myself alive because life is hard and there’s things you got to do. But now I got nothing to lose. I’m going to tell the truth, once and for all. I hope those that put me in this place read it when I’m dead—which I have a feeling won’t be long. Maybe then they’ll see.

The trucks are starting to idle outside new, spitting fumes right into my window. And the inmates are creeping down the hall, yelping like animals fighting to get to the watering hole. Damned if I’m not hungry myself. Those rubbery eggs don’t sound half bad.

I got another reason for keeping this book. It’s called leaving a paper trail. Something fishy’s going on in this place and I want a record in case anything happens to me. That’s right. There’s whispering, and shifty looks, and things gone missing.

It’s all going down here.

I’m using the purple pen.

I’ve always had the prettiest handwriting.


From the Hardcover edition.

Reading Group Guide

1. Cora and her siblings are named after gems. Abel’s siblings are named after biblical characters. What is the significance of names in the novel?

2. Discuss the men in Cora’s life: Edward, Abel, Marcos, and Vitus. How are they the similar? Different? What role does each play in Cora’s life? In the novel as a whole?

3. Cora says, “One thing I learned from this whole mess is never to forget that life can slap you in the face any minute it feels like it. For no reason at all, it can say Guess what and the next thing you know everything has changed, everything that you thought was true and right and forever don’t mean squat.” When and how does Cora get slapped in the face? How does she react? What are the long-term effects?

4. Why does Abel marry Cora? Why does he stay with her? What do they mean to each other? Why does he come back  as a ghost to comfort and counsel her?

5. Cora says, “My weight, or my size—like everybody likes to call it when what them mean is fat—has been the curse of my life.” What significance does Cora’s size have in the novel? How does it affect who she is and what happens over the course of her life?

6. The two threads of the story, past and present, interweave throughout the narrative. How do these strands reflect and explain each other? How does the reader experience jumping from one to the other?

7. What are the advantages and disadvantages of structuring the novel as a journal? How does it affect the reading experience? How does it function in the pacing of the story? In the juxtaposition of Cora’s past and present life?

8. In the last chapter, Cora says, “When I die and you come to clean out my house, you’ll find [these journals]. You can do whatever you want. I’ve pictured you reading them and finding out the truth. If you see any mistakes—spelling or wrong words—you can fix them. You have my okay.” Whom is she addressing?  What audience does she have in mind when she writes?

9. Why and how will Cora’s life be different when she returns to her house than when she left it? What is responsible for the transformation?

10. Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon, says “Read this book to see redemption.” In what ways is Cora redeemed? What contributes to her redemption?

Introduction

In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot of this book—as well as the ending. If you have not finished reading Breaking Out of Bedlam, we respectfully suggest that you may want to wait before reviewing this guide.

Customer Reviews

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Breaking Out of Bedlam 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
DarleneGinn-Hargrove More than 1 year ago
HILARIOUS!!!!! IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A LIGHT HEARTED, HAND CLAPPING, GOOD FEELING SUMMER READ, LOOK NO MORE THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU. I COULD NOT STOP LAUGHING AS I ATTEMPTED TO READ THIS BOOK. LARSON HAS A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOR. CORA SLEDGE IS BEING FORCED OUT OF HER HOUSE AND INTO AN ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY. BUT CORA IS NOT TAKING THIS LYING DOWN. CORA DOES NOT WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE PALISADES WHICH LOOKS BEAUTIFUL ON THE OUTSIDE, BUT THE INSIDE IS A WHOLE OTHER STORY. WHILE DETERMINED TO DIE IN THIS FACILITY, CORA BEGINS TO WRITE A TELL-ALL JOURNAL ABOUT HER LIFE. CORA IS UNLEASHING ALL OF HER SECRETS AND REGRETS AND LETTING THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY. BUT WHEN CORA STUMBLES UPON A ROMANCE WITH ONE OF THE FELLOW RESIDENTS THINGS START TO CHANGE. THIS WILL DEFINITELY BE ONE OF YOUR GREAT READS. ENJOY...........
love-to-read-CA More than 1 year ago
I love this book! It's funny, a little sad and too truthful as it reveals how life really can be for many older people who get forced into an assisted living facility by have relatives that think they cannot live alone. Ms. Larson's main character, Cora Sledge, seems like one of your own family as her story unfolds in the journals she begins writing in during her stay at the Palisades. She climbs out of her pill-popping funk and creates a new, stronger and wiser Cora. Cora is a hoot and yet so vulnerable in her discovery that SHE can take her life back and "break out of bedlam". Kudos to Leslie Larson for writing such a wonderful book.
LiteraryAficianado More than 1 year ago
Have you ever wondered what life events have shaped a difficult person, someone you prefer to keep at arms length or would rather not have around at all? Leslie Larson has us consider our moral judgment of people (who perhaps we have disregarded along the way) through the development of her protagonist, Cora Sledge. Cora, a recent resident of an assisted living facility, weighs in at about three hundred pounds and exists somewhere between an off-putting manner and just below the haze of a pill-induced fog. We are pulled into Cora's story as she journals about the daily happenings at her new "so called home." Through Cora's writing, she evolves and we gain a rare glimpse at her past dreams, disappointments, tragedies and sorrows and find that she is after all human, and not too unlike each of us. A surprisingly good read that has us looking for more from Leslie Larson.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm 81 years old, and when i started reading this book, i got scared. I was afraid i would end up in a place like Bedlam. I couldn't put the book down! It fascinated me and before long i was enjoying reading about Cora and her journey through life. When i finished the book, I was sorry it was over. I am in my own home with my little dog, and dearly hope i never have to give it up to live with a bunch of old people!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BarbR1 More than 1 year ago
After reading the oneline review, I thought I would give this book a try. What a huge disappointment. The concept of the story could have been good, as was the beginning. The story was just fair and the further it went the worse it became. I was not sure I would even finish it, but worked my way thru it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this based on a preview, and I was disappointed that the rest of the book did not quite live up to the promise. It was just ok.
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Babs777 More than 1 year ago
This book was fantastic. I was hooked from the first page and zipped through. Cora was delightful and multi-faceted and her observations about her fellow "inmates" were just hilarious. More importantly, she grew immensely as a person even as she grew smaller in size as she reflected on her life, especially the parts that were painful to review. A well-rounded novel, full of interesting people and insights. I highly recommend it. My best friend and I are hoping for a possible sequel.
JanetOH More than 1 year ago
I liked this book from start to finish, it was an entertaining tale of an elderly woman who refuses to give up her dream of going back to live in her own home. I was afraid it was going to be depressing, since it's set in a nursing home (assisted living center), but it wasn't. I enjoyed Cora's writing in her journal about the secrets she's held onto for all these years. I'm looking forward to more from Ms. Larson.