Brenda Perlin opens her novel with the dramatic statement, “I was physically attacked by a woman who didn’t even know me” and from that moment I was hooked. Perlin’s first person, conversational style immediately draws us into her story and lends her voice authenticity.
The story is that of Brooklyn, so named by her mother after a character in a film, although she has no idea which one or why. This immediately creates the sense that Brooklyn is somehow disconnected from herself and the novel is essentially her journey to self-discovery. It’s a journey that takes many twists and turns whilst keeping the reader engaged throughout.
Brooklyn’s reflections are unflinchingly honest as she offers up her life for our scrutiny. Perlin employs an understated, almost naked style, which is a brave choice as it allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. There are times, such as when Brooklyn describes herself as a sneaky child that we want to take her hand and reassure her that all children are sneaky. Conversely, when she is about to marry a man she doesn’t really love, we want to shake her whilst yelling – what are you doing? There is never a time, however, that we do not feel connected to Brooklyn’s story and her self-doubt and willingness to own her mistakes guarantee that we are rooting for her to find happiness.
As Perlin takes us through Brooklyn’s life, there is a lot to identify with, particularly I think for those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s. Brooklyn is a rebellious teen, who becomes part of the LA punk scene and I really enjoyed reading about the details of her life during this stage. Perlin also effectively describes the harrowing pain of losing parents and the subsequent changes that are inevitable in family dynamics. Brooklyn has issues with her body image, no doubt exacerbated by the LA glamour she is surrounded by and her commitment to exercise is the one constant throughout her life.
Although there is much universality in Brooklyn’s tale, there are aspects of her life that are more unique. In her early 40s, she is struck down by a rare neurological condition, which alters the course of her life dramatically and Perlin’s understated style seems to only heighten the horror of what she has to endure.
Health problems aside, Brooklyn’s life is mainly blighted by her relationship with men. She has a difficult relationship with her father until in her 20s when, after her mother’s death, they are able to re-connect and build a positive bond. This early relationship seems to set the pattern of her trying to please others at the expense of her own well being, most disastrously when she marries the controlling Gerard.
Shattered Reality is a life affirming story as we leave Brooklyn at the point in her life when she has finally realised that she can take care of herself and, being in a relationship doesn’t mean subjugating your own needs for those of the other person. In Bo, Brooklyn finds a man who she can be her true self with.
If you like a novel written in the style of true life then I think you’ll love following Brooklyn’s journey. Shattered Reality is an emotional rollercoaster that not only allows us to participate in Brooklyn’s self reflection and subsequent personal growth but also stirs us to examine our own memories and experiences.