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Breaking and Entering: A Novel Paperback – January 10, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Eileen Pollack’s new novel, “Breaking and Entering,” takes place in rural Michigan in 1995 ― the epicenter and high point of the militia movement, before increased scrutiny and revulsion at the Oklahoma City bombing put some militia groups out of business and sent others underground. (Though not a militiaman, the bomber Timothy McVeigh attended their meetings and spent time on a Michigan farm with his fellow conspirator Terry Nichols.) The Oklahoma City attack comes about a third of the way through Pollack’s book, a real-world event that informs and shadows the fictional ones. ...Quite a lot of bad things happen in “Breaking and Entering.” Pollack is an engaging writer with a first-rate eye for the telling sociological detail.... Since the author’s intent is to explore intolerance, hatred and evil, it is not enough that these forces merely simmer and self-perpetuate. The stakes are raised, and escalating consequences play out. ...―Jean Thompson, The New York Times Book Review

A compassionate, humorous new novel about the ambiguities of modern life. After his patient commits suicide, a shattered Richard Shapiro and his wife, Louise, both therapists, move from upscale, liberal Marin County, California, to a rural Michigan village in 1995. But so much for the great escape: Louise takes up with a magnetic married minister, and Richard befriends members of the local militia, which has ties to the Oklahoma City bomber. Set against the backdrop of a divided America, Breaking and Entering by Eileen Pollack is a novel laced with compassion, humor and wisdom about the ambiguities of modern life. ―Lynn Schnurnberger, More Magazine

Louise Shapiro is thoroughly beset in this thorny, lucid novel. Her bad luck begins in California, where her husband abandons his psychology practice and takes a job in a rural Michigan prison. Louise struggles to adjust to the heartland, which seems overpopulated with religious nuts and militia members. Her husband drifts away into a rebellious, gun-toting fugue, and the lover she takes becomes remote in his own way. ... Her increasingly nuanced view of the sociopolitical divide is reflected in Pollack’s sensitive portrayals of both liberal Louise and her ilk, and their conservative counterparts. Weaving the personal with the political, Pollack... creates an encompassing haze of dissatisfaction and misdirected passion. Despite the unrelenting misfortune, though, the tone is more solemn than dark; there’s a beautiful contemplativeness, and a believable sense of redemption in the end. ―Publisher’s Weekly

An exploration of Tolstoy’s dictum about unhappy families....A rich and satisfying novel that explores in a significant way contemporary issues of family, religion and politics.―Kirkus Review


“…a very real accomplishment―an admirable, serious, and important novel of ideas that does not neglect characters.” (Antonya Nelson)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Four Way; Original edition (January 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935536125
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935536123
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,101,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Eileen Pollack is the author of the novels Breaking and Entering (a New York Times Editor's Choice selection) and Paradise, New York, as well as two collections of short fiction, an award-winning book of nonfiction, and two creative-nonfiction textbooks. Her work has appeared in Best American Essays and Best American Short Stories. She is a professor on the faculty of the Helen Zell MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan. She divides her time between Manhattan and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Photo credit Michele McDonald.

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By kacunnin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 30, 2012
Format: Paperback
Eileen Pollack's BREAKING AND ENTERING explores what it means to live among people whose differences seem like barriers to understanding. Louise and Richard Shapiro are happy living in San Francisco until tragic circumstances destroy their illusions. Shattered by a patient's suicide, Richard decides to take a job as a psychologist at a prison in central Michigan, and Louise reluctantly goes along with the move. She hopes to salvage the remains of their disintegrating marriage and find a safe place to raise their 6-year-old daughter, Molly. What they find in Michigan, however, are people whose attitudes and values are completely different from their own. Their neighbors are members of the same militia group that spawned Timothy McVeigh, the local church is passing out grotesque flyers against abortion, the school principal is homophobic, and both racism and anti-Semitism are preached on the local radio station. This is not an easy environment for a liberal Jew and his agnostic wife.

BREAKING AND ENTERING is set in 1995, around the same time McVeigh and his cohorts bomb the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Pollack's crisply written story is told from multiple perspectives, giving us insight into how her many characters see the world around them, but also leaving us a little lost in trying to figure out whom to trust. That, of course, is the point. It's not easy to figure out whom to trust in this world or ours. Do we judge people by the company they keep, by the books they read, by the WWJD bracelets they wear, by how tolerant they are (or aren't) of people who believe different things? Are the people the Shapiros meet dangerous . . . or just different? Can you always tell when someone is a monster, or can banality be deceiving?
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Format: Paperback
I thought the writing was very good and the characters were pretty believable. Pollack understands children and Molly was well drawn and her personality added warmth and many light moments to a basically somber story. The culture clash of two very sophisticated and highly educated professional people living in a town full of small minds seemed fairly realistic and it was interesting to me to see how well or poorly they adjusted. It was asking a lot though, for me to accept the long odds of Louise randomly bumping into (at McDonalds no less) a successful playwright with a divinity degree from Harvard, who was not only handsome but had talents in the bedroom that matched Louise's most ardent sexual fantasies, while everyone else she encounters is a creationist, practices Wicca or belongs to some right wing militia.

being married for 30 years myself I could relate to the the distance we can put between ourselves and another person in spite of being intimately connected, and the callouses formed around resentments and bitter disappointments. Pollack did a good job navigating those minefields but I found Richard to still be a mystery in the end, and had no redeeming virtues. The story would have been much better served if Richard had some redeeming virtues, to create more tension, more conflict in Louise.

I found myself bored as the story developed since I realized there would be no real surprises. Pollack was very good at capturing the intricate and complex factors that cause a marriage to dissolve, and cause spouses to cheat, and cause us to betray our own better selves, this is an accomplishment for a writer. But as a reader it would have satisfying to have some kind of denouement that explained the psychological factors in the character's ultimate decision.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
My book club made this book a recent selection, and we ended up very divided. One of our most typically-critical readers rated it highly because she found the characters so believable. But I, who tend to like most books, gave it one of the lowest ratings in our group.

I liked the writing and the way the author crafted the story. She clearly has a gift with words. In the end, however, there was a paucity of likable characters--and those are critical for me to really get into a book. I want to care about what happens to the people in it. The most sympathetic characters, in the end, are the ones that seemed least worthy in the beginning of the story. Maybe that's the gift of Pollack's writing and I'm not appreciating that sufficiently.

I do recommend this book as an eye-opening if chilling insight into the kind of people drawn to militia movements. The "bad guys" are not cartoon villains.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Abbe Anderson on April 13, 2012
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This book is thought-provoking, compelling, insightful, funny, suspenseful, romantic, more than anyone could wish for in a novel. The topics are broad, and the author covers them even-handedly. Nothing is as it seems: each of us is capable of the travesties we accuse so readily in others. And yet there is hope. Highly recommended.
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8 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Eric Selby on February 2, 2012
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Because of Richard's depression, he and Louise--along with their six-year-old highly precocious daughter, Molly--leave the home they love in northern California for a new beginning in a Victorian house badly in need of a facelift in what turns out to be a Michigan town filled with people who do not share the couple's values. It only took me a few pages into this thick book--25 pages shy of 400--to become very annoyed with this writer. In order to provide the reader with point-of-view (POV)--something current writers do a lot with and that is good--the writer provides what observations and thoughts the character has while describing actions undertaken. But Eileen Pollack, in my opinion, overdoes it to the point that it becomes so annoying.

Because I like the concept of the novel--a town in which the locals have formed a militia because of their "Tea Party"-type paranoia--the novel is set in 1995 well before the Tea Party--I kept going as we see the marriage falling apart and Louise falling for the sexy Unitarian minister whose Jewish wife is just a little too far into kosher this and that stuff.

But I did so by having another great novel to go to when I couldn't take any more of this novel--and I highly recommend to you David Vann's "Caribou Island."

Much of the dialogue given to Molly is so adult. She may be the most precocious child in the state of Michigan, but six-year-olds don't talk as if they have majored in English!

And the author doesn't know much about how public schools operate either. I know because I taught in them for decades. You need to write about what you really know. Ms. Pollack doesn't realize that the special education personnel she describes just don't exist--except in the writer's imagination apparently.

Lots of flaws in this novel.
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