Elegies for the Brokenhearted: A Novel
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Elegies for the Brokenhearted: A Novel

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  538 ratings  ·  125 reviews
Who are the people you’ll never forget? For Mary Murphy, there are five, eulogized here in an utterly unforgettable voice. Mary tells the story of her own life—her childhood spent trading one home and father figure for another, her efforts to track down her rebellious sister, and her winding search for purpose—through her experiences and encounters with the people who shap...more
ebook, 256 pages
Published July 9th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2010)
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Hey check it out, I reviewed this for Gently Read Literature!


Elegies for the Brokenhearted begins in a rush and never loses momentum. It's crafted with galloping long sentences, clause within clause within clause, that swerve the reader away and then back and then away again. The characters are so sharp, their scenarios so poignant, their interactions so painful and real… This book is a devastating joy.

It’s a novel in stories—or, more accurately, in elegies—direct addresses by Mary Murphy to...more
Every now and then, I chance upon a little gem, a novel that captivates me from the very first line and keeps me reading rabidly until the very last sentence. Elegies for the Brokenhearted is such a novel.

Not unlike Spoon River Anthology – the Edgar Lee Masters collection of short free-form poems that collectively describe the lives and losses of deceased members of a small town – Elegies focuses on five characters in a nameless postindustrial city located in New England and narrated by Mary Mur...more
You were a novel about loss and I did not want to read you. Every time I looked for a new book to read, you came up on lists and I still did not want to read you. You seemed smart and nice, but I just wasn't that into you. It wasn't you, it was me.

Finally, I just said "F-- it," and said OK. You rushed to my kindle in no time flat, and that was it. I was hooked. All those lists were right and maybe even know me better than I know myself. Damn lists.

It turns out you weren't only about loss. You w...more
Wow, I loved the writing in this – absolute perfection. In this book we watch the protagonist Mary Murphy move from childhood into adulthood, quite a long span given the number of pages. Mary had a dysfunctional upbringing but the “hook” is her story is told through the elegies she writes for five people who figured prominently in her life. Genius, right? Because we are so very defined by the relationships we have. There are a host of quotable passages in this book. So often I stopped just to ap...more
There are so many great things I like about this novel . First, I think the title is great. I really like the concept of the elegy and Hodgen uses this to structure the work. The book is told in five stories--five elegies--about people in Mary Murphy's life who have passed away: her favorite uncle, Mike; her classmate, Elwood; her college roommate, Carson; her strange acquaintance and saving grace, James; and her mother, Maggie. Therefore, there is no linear storyline, per se. Rather, you learn...more
Malena Watrous
I ordered this novel after hearing it reviewed on NPR, and it was a pleasure from start to finish. I enjoyed the unique structure, elegies for five people that the protagonist knew over the course of her short life, all of whom died. She manages to sustain a narrative arc that's actually rather traditional and linear in spite of this unusual set-up, but also to achieve that short story quality of zeroing in on particular moments. I really liked the five eulogized characters, especially her tragi...more
oh what a great novel about a family that has its problems. mom gets divorced too much, big sis takes off and nobody knows where to, uncle was kind of nice for a drunk asshole, little sis goes to college and starts a miserable single teacher's life, but then you come to the realization that the only way you will be able to make it through this so-called life is to try and be nice and human to your friends and family. don't give up on them or yourself, you.
Spectacular writing. I've been waiting for this book without knowing of it.
Jul 31, 2011 Martha rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: fans of literary fiction
Shelves: reviewed
The narrator's isolation and somewhat distanced perspective reminded me of The Bell Jar--although it feels more optimistic overall. There are really perceptive and at times crushing passages on how people relate (or fail to relate) to each other. 2nd person is common throughout, which I found a refreshing change of pace. The sentence structure is often distended, but the text remains energized and engaging.

I loved reading this book. Would recommend it to literary fiction fans.
Mar 23, 2012 Mark rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mark by: Stewart O'Nan
Shelves: arc
You can often tell a lot about someone by what they think of others. In Christie Hodgen's novel, there are five elegies written by Mary Murphy about five people who had an influence on her life. The prose is powerful and compelling, as more is revealed about Mary's own difficult life. This book will knock your proverbial socks off!
Daphne Atkeson
Equally poignant to HELLO, I MUST BE GOING. This woman can write dysfunctional families like nobody's business. A coming-of-age story embedded in the stories of five friends/family members lives who died during the course of the book (off scene). Vivid and vibrant and touching and profound.
If you think about your life and the people you have known, there are bound to be some that have since passed on. Their mark on your life is often more profound and memorable because they have passed, as is the nature of death.[return][return]Mary Murphy has met a few such people in her quest to find herself. She is a girl trying to feel her way in this world despite the dysfunctional family to which she is born. The book takes us through her reserved, low-key life and her relationship with her...more
McGuffy Morris
This novel is beautifully written, though often sad. It is pieces written to various people who have affected the life of the narrator.

As a whole, the book is thoughtful, well written, and very believable. Separately, each piece is sensitive, poignant and moving. Each piece, each elegy, is unique in itself, just as the person and the relationship was.

Each character is genuine and the portrayal of the relationship is heartfelt and even heartrending at times. The thought and feeling involved in ea...more
Bonnie Brody
Elegies For the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen is a compilation of stories about Mary and the people in her life who were most important to her. Each story is told through an elegy written after the person's death. In this way we learn about the people she loved and her own life as well.

The first elegy is about her uncle Mike, the `loser' in the family. "Every family had one and you were ours: the chump, the slouch, the drunk, the bum, the forever-newly-employed...and the forever-newly-unemplo...more
Elise Hamilton
Beautiful book. One of the blurbs on the cover says that it was, "The literary equivalent of a hand-grenade," and I'd have to agree. Very moving, but almost a body-blow. This is the first of Christie Hodgen's books I've read and it's made me a fan. I intend to read her other two, “Hello, I Must Be Going” and “A Jeweler's Eye for Flaw”. Refer to the synopsis of “Elegies for the Brokenhearted”; what follows are simply my own notes and impressions. The narrator's own story is told through her elegi...more
I enjoyed Elegies for the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen. It is a rather bleak look at life of the main character, Mary, told through elegies to five influential people in her life. Mary’s life has not been great. She has a husband-bouncing, absentee mother, a drunk and high sister, and an alcoholic, show-up-once-in-a-blue-moon father. In addition, she is poor and also seems to struggle with depression. That being said, the story is nicely written.
There are five main elegies in the novel. Fi...more
"A week later I went off to college and for a long time I didn't think about you. ... By then I had seen wealth and had realized at last that we were poor. You, me, that whole miserable city, that godawful place, bleak and ugly as hell, we were all poor. We could hardly be otherwise. Our city was a landlocked settlement that had failed long ago, that had built up its factories - dozens of them, red brick, leaning smokestacks rising up from their rooftops - without taking into account its lack of...more
Melissa Lee-tammeus
I borrowed this book from the library per a friend's advice and I have to say, it took me a bit of time to appreciate it. This is a book that requires a block of time to truly grasp the meaning and appreciate the author's intent. I found myself putting it down and then picking it back up a few days later many times - it kept calling to me I suppose, despite life interjecting. Written in a way I have never seen - in a series of 5 separate stories about people in the narrator's life who have died...more
It was a decent book. But what I liked about this book the most is how I could relate - or not relate - to the characters. I mean, to be honest, the character giving the elegies seemed a little pretentious. Oh, you poor thing. You had SUCH A ROUGH LIFE. But, you went to college, you have a child that loves you - albeit your sister's - you met lots of people, you learned a lot, you made good, lifetime friends. How so sad. I'm not saying my own life was particularly terrible or more terrible than...more
Nov 07, 2012 Jamie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jamie by: NPR
There are no spoilers here. From the moment you begin reading Elegies, you know that each person Mary talks about is dead. She says things like "You were..." and when the person speaks their dialogue is italicized because you know they are not really speaking at all. Despite the fact that you know this, this book still works. Like Mary did, you get to know and love each of these people individually as their stories unfold. You don't love them instantly but you build up, through reading, a kind o...more
The narrator, a young woman from Massachusetts named Mary, gives five "elegies" for people she once knew but who have died. I had to look up the words "elegy" and "eulogy" to remind myself of the difference. What we have here is something in between the two. In relating her "mournful poems" and "tributes" to the dead, who were truly brokenhearted in life, all five of them, she in fact tells the story of her own life. It's a very fresh approach to storytelling, and it works. Really phenomenal wri...more
I really think this is a five star book; I just tend to be stingy with my star ratings. This is actually five vignettes of five people from the author's life. Each made a difference in some way, some seemingly of minor consequence. Yet, the author apparently felt these people made such significant impacts that they needed to be acknowledged. She does a phenomenal job of coloring the lives of these people; some presentations are painful to read, and, I am sure, were very painful to have lived. Ye...more
Apr 11, 2011 Autumn rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Anyone interested in people stories
Recommended to Autumn by: Grandma
Mary Murphy narrates five elegies, weaving in the story of her own life while describing the deceased. Each person, including Mary, is a lonely person in his or her own way, and Mary uses them as guides in pursuit of her own meaningful connections.

What I loved:
* The way the story was told. It was a unique character study, and it was especially interesting that most of the image of the narrator herself was sketched out by offhand comments that came back to her through others.
* The subtle observat...more
My rating is 3.5. The book is solid in parts.
This book is written in a different voice. The writer is telling people from her life about their lives. You learn as she does. It's slightly confusing at first, but then super easy to fall into.
You follow her in her life, learning from the five or so people that molded her. Some stories interesting, some go nowhere and I found myself not intrigued, not rooting for, didn't care how they ended up dying or what role they played in her life. However, th...more
Amy Enderle
These characters really stick with me. The NY Times review of this book is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/boo...
(and this article is the reason I can say that my photography ran in the NY Times -- hey, that's something, right?)

I think I'd love this book even if I hadn't met Christie -- she lived in Columbia, MO awhile and ended up getting her PhD in creative writing from MU.

It is in some ways a books of short stories but there's a great deal of interconnectedness. Fans of Olive Kitteri...more
Although this book falls in line with "The Lovely Bones", "13 Reasons Why", and even "The 5 People You Meet In Heaven", it is written from the perspective of the living, and how people who walk in and out of your life, even just fleeting, could change your course. What I love about it is it's not a book about a bored wife of an architect, who studied journalism and has a summer home in "the Cape". Too many novels go there and most of us do not identify. Some will be surprised and shocked at how...more
This is a story told completely through elegies written by the narrator, Mary, of the 5 people most impactful on her life. However, as I read the book, I felt that she was almost writing her own elegy -- the death of the self that she "should" have become based on her truly horrible childhood -- so that she could live the life she decided to become a part of. Through these elegies you get the sense that Mary mostly floated through her life, letting events propel her to the next thing. Her decisi...more
Jessica Jeffers
An entirely unique concept – Hodgen tells the story of Mary Murphy’s life through elegies to five people who have shaped that life. The elegies are arranged in roughly chronological order, and are written from Mary’s point of view. There is the obvious inclusion of her mother, her uncle, and Mary’s college roommate, but also a high school classmate whose influence was perhaps indirect at best and a would-be composer living in a hotel in Maine where Mary also resides in the time between college a...more
I was worried this title would come off as contrived or gimmicky because of the structure, but it works really well. It's also realistic and well written. The downside is it is very, very sad and in its realism offers no easy answers or tidily wrapped conclusions. The mother reminded me quite painfully of my own biological mother. Thankfully I did not grow up with her and therefore didn't have to suffer through her lifestyle choices the way our narrator did. In particular this line rang so true...more
Caity Shipp
This book was a lovely breath of fresh air. It questions the inherent loneliness many of us feel each day but explores one character who understands that we are all connected. We are never alone in loneliness because someone, somewhere, has understood the same feeling. How the author intertwined her story through the elegies is rather beautiful. It is simple and beautiful but makes you think. It makes you think of the people who have left a mark on you and, in the end,that our connection to our...more
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Christie Hodgen is the author of Elegies for the Brokenhearted; Hello, I Must Be Going; and A Jeweler’s Eye for Flaw. She has won the AWP Award for Short Fiction and the Pushcart Prize. She teaches at the University of Missouri–Kansas City.
More about Christie Hodgen...
Hello, I Must Be Going: A Novel A Jeweler's Eye for Flaw: Stories The Southern Review 48.1: Winter 2012 The Southern Review 48.1: Winter 2012 The Southern Review 48.1: Winter 2012

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