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Elegies for the Brokenhearted

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  787 ratings  ·  152 reviews
A savvy, spirited, moving, and surprisingly humorous novel in elegies.

Who are the people you’ll never forget? For Mary Murphy, there are five: A skirt-chasing, car-racing uncle with whiskey breath and a three-day beard. A “walking joke, a sitting duck, a fish in a barrel” named Elwood LePoer. A dirt-poor college roommate who conceals an unbearable secret. A failed piano p
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 19th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2010)
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3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  787 ratings  ·  152 reviews

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May 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2011
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
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. A very random find. I loved it, and was thus more frustrated by a few troublesome overly long middle chapter that felt in need of a stern red pen (which made me realize, at this late stage in my life, that cuckoo clocks are creepy).

The dynamic between two sisters -- one wild, one meek, one bad, one good, etc...etc...keeps coming up in books I'm reading this year. And the now cliched unstable, beautiful, narcissistic, unstable (yes) serial monogamist mother, dragging the si
Oct 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Spectacular writing. I've been waiting for this book without knowing of it.
Feb 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: family
Mary, die Icherzählerin, erinnert sich an fünf Wegbegleiter in ihrem Leben, die alle nicht alt wurden. Mary hatte schon als kleines Mädchen ein feines Ohr für die Andeutungen und Untertöne in den Gesprächen der Erwachsenen. Sie spürt schon früh, wie ihre kleine Welt aus dem Ruder läuft. Ihr Onkel Michael starb mit 37 Jahren an einer Überdosis. Mary richtet im ersten Abschnitt ihre Worte direkt an Michael. Michaels Vater hatte eine Witwe mit drei Töchtern geheiratet, von denen eine die Mutter der ...more
Jan 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Feb 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Original, tight, smart, funny, and achingly insightful.
Lindsay Ferrier
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-my-kindle
What a book!

I am so glad I happened across this gorgeous, heartbreaking, and yet ultimately hopeful novel. Elegies for the Brokenhearted consists of five interwoven short stories, elegies that fit together like puzzle pieces ultimately forming the whole of protagonist Mary Murphy's life. Through the stories of five pivotal people in her history, all of whom died untimely deaths, we learn about Mary and her sister's troubled upbringing and about their mother, who dragged her daughters along thro
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A deadly beautiful work about people whose balloons rise and then pop, just out of reach. How much love there is in the world, coated over by sadness and falseness, but it's there, as one character says, in the everyday kindnesses we bestow upon each other--making lunch, finding socks, getting you to school on time. The organically connected elegies are like a prism into the protagonist, Mary Murphy. The sentences are tight and expansive simultaneously, and as craft, the feat of a work with so m ...more
Bonnie Brody
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Christie Hodgen is a wonderful writers. In this book, we follow the lives of five people in Mary Murphy's life, all eccentric and surreal. In her "elegies" to each of these five, the reader learns a lot about the life of Mary Murphy.

Hodgen makes us laugh outloud as well as feel sad and moved by the many quirks and turns of this book. A very nice read.
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
this one started well but went way downhill. I liked the first two elegies: a close look at a childhood "friend" of the narrator who caused problems but saved her in a way, and then her college roommate, a fascinating person. After that the portraits thinned and the narrator herself got less interesting. By the last elegy, I was skimming.
The five people Mary Murphy devotes her five elegies to are all troubled, struggling people on the edges of society, as Mary herself mostly is. The vivid, truly original and imaginative characterizations (American, mostly blue collar, an assortment of gay, white and black), the unique format, and the superb writing give this great appeal for the literary fiction reader.
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Interesting premise - five elegies written for different people in the main character's life - but just too depressing. Almost nothing remotely positive happens in anyone's life in the whole book. Just drugs, abandonment, mental illness, etc.
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Bought and read this strictly because I loved the title. I thought it was brilliant. I’m so glad I read it. I don’t think I will ever forget these people.
Mike Vogler
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Pretty close to top 10 all time for me, a stunning portrait of the losses a young girl endures
Leanne Dormer
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This may not be the best book you ever read, but it is different. It's well written, but a few of the "chapters" are a little too long. It did capture me more than any book I have read recently, though.
Jan 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2013
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
May 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
"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
McGuffy Morris
Feb 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Elise Hamilton
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Nov 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: family, death
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
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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.