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.
About the author
Frances Peck, Vancouver, wrote fiction and poetry until the realities of adulthood and rent steered her toward ghostwriting, editing, and teaching. Known for her workshops on the finer points of language, she is the author of Peck’s English Pointers, a collection of essays and quizzes. She is a co-author of the popular HyperGrammar website, and an essayist and blogger whose work has appeared in Language Update, The Editors’ Weekly, West Coast Editor, and Geist. Now she’s rediscovering the magic of making things up. The Broken Places is her debut novel.
Excerpt: The Broken Places (by (author) Frances Peck)
Part One: Strain
One minute you’re at your spot in the enormous kitchen, a chrome-and-leather stool at one end of the gleaming granite island. The desert island, you privately call it. You’re alone there so often you may as well be marooned.
Down-island: a clamshell. Actually a laptop, slim, silver, screen gone black, the only sign that another human has crossed this strip of land. The human: your mother, who abhors crumbs and unrinsed coffee cups, drips and stains, crusts of toast—all the messes of human life. Your mother, who moves through each day leaving no trace other than some random electronic device. Hurricane Charlotte, Dad calls her, a strange name for someone who glides cold and robot-like through life. Your mother, who never listens, who doesn’t understand the first thing about you, who is too oblivious to even know that she doesn’t know.
One minute you’re sitting there, empty Mountain Dew can at your elbow, the drink having edged you into another reluctant day, along with the fatty-sweet bitsu-bitsu May made fresh this morning. Breakfast of champions, Dad said when he strolled in. He swiped a couple of the chewy doughnuts himself, trailed sugar like white sand all the way to the kitchen island. Your mother glared.
One minute you’re on your stool. On your phone, scanning Instagram posts from Rebecca Lee, who used to hang out with you. You’d go to the mall, split a frozen yogurt, one topping your choice, one hers, get high, steal nail polish, steal, once, a pair of jeans you shoved under your jacket when Rebecca said no way, you never would. Rebecca, now a stuck-up slut who has quit talking to you.
It’s not like she’s the only one. Lots of people won’t acknowledge you now. You creep along the hallway outside chem lab—which used to be your spot between classes, you owned that spot—and your so-called friends fold into a tight whispering knot, no words for you. You angle toward your place in the cafeteria, the table where you’ve sat for the past two and a half years, and find every chair occupied. In class, it doesn’t matter which one, the person in front of you hands papers back without turning all the way. When you enter the washroom you clear the place out.
It’s fine. They talked about this in group. Reintegration, they called it; also redrawing. It’s hard for the people in your life to redraw you. They want to see the same you they’ve always seen. The group counsellor, Drayton, too earnest and granola for your liking though he always gave you respect, would trace a rectangle in the air with his forefinger. For most people, he said, the world is a tidy box. Step outside the box, disturb their sense of order, and they feel profoundly uncomfortable. When that happens, you’ve got to remember the discomfort is their problem, not yours.
Redrawing. You like that idea.
One minute your earbuds are pulsing Taylor Swift, a not-bad song years ago when it came out, the video with all the ballet dancers, now just lame, an embarrassing scrap of childhood. Like the frilly canopy bed you hung on to until you were fifteen and woke up one day to realize you were no one’s princess. Time to make a new playlist. Taylor Swift is so . . . yesterday.
One minute you’re on your desert island, scrolling, scrolling, looking for a better, more meaningful song, a more mature song, one that suits your mood this boring Tuesday morning, wondering if you should post something about that skanky Rebecca Lee, because you know stuff about her no one else knows, or if you should just let it go, the way you’re learning to let things go.
The next minute—how?—
You’re on your ass, the heavy stool you were sitting on tipped over beside you.
Pots and pans sail off copper hooks. Crash all around you. Bounce.
Holy shit! Dad?
Instinct kicks in. Make yourself small. You curl up like a snail, hold your bandaged hand close to your belly. Be a snail. Be a snail. Only you’ve never had a shell.
The blender flies off the granite island, smashes onto the terracotta floor. Glass sprays. Another barstool falls.
You wait. Wire-taut, every nerve screaming run. But you don’t. It’s the one thing you’re not supposed to do.
Below the treble of smashing glass and clanging metal, a bass line builds, like no sound you’ve ever heard before. Deep rolling thunder, but louder. Close. A jumbo jet landing on the roof.
You wait. Terrified.
You wait, like you’ve waited for so much in life. To be understood. To matter.
You wait. For everything to end. For something else to begin.