I've just finished two of the strongest and most transformative novels I've ever read: Stephanie Kallos' Broken for You and her second novel, Sing Them Home. I first learned of Kallos not from the bestseller lists, where she's rightfully occupied long standing, but when I shared a table with her at the Midwestern Booksellers Convention last September in St. Paul, MN. We were paired up as two authors to each present to a group of bookstore owners and managers about our publications. Stephanie immediately won my heart right off the bat when she said to me, “I'm the keynote speaker, so I'll get a chance to talk later. Please use my time to talk about your book.” Considering she told me this after I had experienced other authors I was previously paired with trying to dominate our 15 minutes with each group of authors, I was amazed by her generosity. Later, she gave one of the best talks I've heard on the writing life, which you can read along with other essays she's written — all fully of whimsy and depth, love for creating and respect for the mystery and frustration of the process at times — at her website (www.StephanieKallos.com).
Sing Them Home, which I read first, is set in rural Nebraska (where Kallos grew up) some years after a tornado not only lifted a home into the sky but a mother of three, who was never found again. Focused on intertwined stories of the three children, now adults, along with other small town characters, the novel is both mythic and intimate in its scope, showing us the redemptive powers of love and kinship against the backdrop of disease, divorce, catastrophic weather, fear and isolation.Broken for You, which I finished this morning only because I willed myself to put it down and get some sleep last night, is set in Kallos' current home town of Seattle, and it brings together two women with secrets and seemingly unhealable wounds: one a wealthy, dying woman who lives in a mansion filled with thousands of antiques and not a living soul but herself, and the other, an abandoned young woman searching for the boyfriend who left her in between stage managing local theater productions. By the time the novel ends, after twining through the lives of an elder Scottish man, a Irish drifter with a propensity for bowling, a gay, Jewish, Southern chef, a disposed British nanny, a French researcher, a Holocaust survivor with startlingly red hair, and a handsome handyman, I was breathless and completely thrilled.