The Broken Places
by Frances Peck
Find at your local bookstore
978-1-77439-045-0 | 2022 April | 390 Pages
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Vancouver. A day like any other. Kyle, a successful cosmetic surgeon, is punishing himself with a sprint up a mountain. Charlotte, wife of a tech tycoon, is combing the farm belt for local cheese and a sense of purpose. Back in the city their families go about their business: landscaping, negotiating deals, skipping school. It’s a day like any other—until suddenly it’s not.
When the earthquake hits, the city erupts in chaos and fear. Kyle’s and Charlotte’s families, along with two passersby, are thrown together in an oceanfront mansion. The conflicts that beset these wildly different people expose the fault lines beneath their relationships, as they question everything in an effort to survive and reunite with their loved ones stranded outside the city.
Frances Peck’s debut novel examines the unpredictable ways in which disaster can shake up lives and test personal resilience.
“In her debut novel, Frances Peck masterfully brings together a cast of complex characters, each broken in their own way, and weaves a compelling story set against the backdrop of a catastrophic earthquake. It beautifully reminded me that none of us are ever on solid ground, especially when it comes to our human, and fragmented, hearts.”
~ Brian Francis, author of Fruit and Missed Connections
“With masterful use of craft, Peck takes readers on a journey into how devastation draws us together while pulling us apart. With moving imagery and haunting insight into response to trauma, The Broken Places highlights the flawed nature of humanity and our ability to move forward and find community after complicated, tragic loss. Above all, Peck gives nuanced, stunning characters who show readers what it means to give ourselves up to our flaws and find love and beauty in the process.”
~ Kelly S. Thompson, national bestselling author of Girls Need Not Apply: Field Notes from the Forces
“Frances Peck’s wonderfully sophisticated and razor-sharp novel takes dead aim at Vancouver’s tenuous decadent dreams against an ensemble of mesmerizing characters. The Broken Places casts an unwavering eye on a city of glass and its inhabitants who must respond to a savagely cruel event that shatters some families while bringing others closer together. It’s Balzacian in its ambition and wit, raising ineluctable questions about family and wealth, love and lust, resignation and resilience, and offers hard-earned truths about the death of dreams and how we’ll fight fiercely to keep them intact regardless of the cost. A well-crafted, affecting debut.”
~ John Vigna, author of No Man’s Land
“Frances Peck reveals herself a writer with seismic impact as she examines the before, during, and after of crumbling worlds and relationships. The Broken Places will scare the living daylights out of you while it yields harsh truths, heartbreak, and hope about the human condition.”
~ Glen Huser, author of Burning the Night
“The Broken Places is a propulsive, terrifying novel about the sudden catastrophic upending of day-to-day life. Hillsides slump, bridges give way, apartment buildings tilt and crumble—while love, desire, greed and devotion are tested, heightened or lost forever. Frances Peck's characters are those we instinctively understand. Beautifully layered and compelling, this novel explores the intricacies of human behaviour—what it is that makes us, and what it is we cherish most.”
~ Libby Creelman, author of Split
“The Broken Places is a rare treat that combines high-tension narrative with true literary craft, delivering characters that readers will love to love, hate, pity, and grieve. Set against the backdrop of a devastating earthquake, the story of how a diverse group of people react to their new reality is beautifully delivered, offering many moments of masterful writing and rich, sensory engagement. Layer by layer, Peck reveals the motivations, fears and desires of her characters, doling out clues that culminate in an explosive and heartbreaking climax. Yet the novel ends with hope. Not a sweet-sugary treat, but a hope grounded firmly in believable characters and situations that resonate.”
~ Ruth E. Walker, author of Living Underground
“Frances Peck’s dazzling debut novel snatches a cast of vividly realized, multi-faceted characters out of their daily lives in Vancouver and gathers them closer and closer as the book builds toward a dramatic, disturbing macroseismic cataclysm. Peck slides effortlessly in and out of the intimate thoughts and turbulent flux of emotion that individuals experience as they connect, as their destinies interlace, as their lives are irrevocably altered. People disappear; people are transformed. Peck’s prose is piercing with precision—here are broken people, and here is what might heal them.”
~ Claire Wilkshire, author of The Love Olympics and Maxine
"The novel is intense, the situations extreme and yet so many moments of masterful writing and sensory engagement are on offer for readers."
~ Ruth E. Walker, writescape.ca (full review)
"Peck deftly weds second- and third-person perspectives, flashbacks and flashforwards, epistolary interludes and enough literary amuse-bouches that the form of the novel is as compelling as the content.”
~ Andrew Guilbert, Alberta Views (full review)
"Not a soul emerges unscathed in this intense and absorbing drama."
~ Brett Josef Grubisic, Vancouver Sun (full review)
"It is the way that Peck focuses on the human suffering that no doubt will make the biggest impact on most Vancouverites reading the book… Peck digs deep. For pages at a time, she submerges us completely in the minds of one character before moving on to the next."
~ Theo Dombrowski, The British Columbia Review (full review)
- Kyle and Charlotte are outside the city when the earthquake strikes. Besides their physical separation from loved ones, what else do these two have in common? How are their story arcs similar? How are they different?
- Certain characters are rocked not only by the earthquake but by the interplay between love and lust. How does the disaster affect the book’s romantic and sexual entanglements? What fears are unleashed, and what role does fear play in these relationships?
- Identity is a central theme in this novel. Which characters have the truest sense of who they really are? Which ones know themselves least? How does the earthquake shape or change how the characters view themselves?
- Charlotte becomes fixated on the story within a story she remembers reading one night in the Chicago airport. To what extent does the so-called Flitcraft Parable shape her decisions and her ultimate fate? What do you think: are we capable of great change, or are we destined to repeat the same patterns?
- Late in the novel, Sidney reflects that her father, a titan of communications, cannot communicate. Do you agree? Discuss the ways in which communication, or the lack thereof, is a thread throughout the book.
- Miss Dodie is the only character in the mansion whose point of view is not part of the narrative. Why is that? What is Miss Dodie’s role? How does her presence unsettle others in the house?
- The mother-child relationship figures strongly in the book. How does this bond play out for different characters? For the Stedmans, how does the role of mother shape the family dynamics?
- Canada is sometimes called a classless society. Is that true? Is there a difference between class and socioeconomic status? How does each character’s position on the social ladder affect their reactions and their interactions as the disaster unfolds?
- The title comes from Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms: “The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places.” How does this quote relate to each character in the novel? Who is most affected by trauma? Who grows strong in the broken places, and who doesn’t? What about the physical and societal broken places in the book? Will they—can they—grow stronger?
- Do you agree with Hemingway? Does disaster make us stronger? Or does it mostly break us? What is your personal experience with disaster and its aftermath?
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