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Breaking and Entering: A Novel Paperback – January 10, 2012
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“…a very real accomplishment―an admirable, serious, and important novel of ideas that does not neglect characters.” (Antonya Nelson)
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Top Customer Reviews
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?
The story itself is really a "fish out of water" tale. Richard, the only Jew among his new neighbors and co-workers, finds himself drawn to their world of guns and survivalist rhetoric, as if the raw manliness of such things makes him feel more in control of the uncontrollable. Louise, who finds a temporary job as a school counselor, is shocked to learn that three of the five biology teachers are teaching their students creationism. She is both repulsed and frightened by the guns, the evangelical proselytizing, and the anti-government propaganda. As if in reaction, she finds herself fantasizing about the charismatic Unitarian minister she meets in McDonalds.
Near the end of the novel, Louise says, "In many ways it's worse not to know whether the dangers you face are justified or imagined. Mutual paranoia can be the deadliest risk of all." This is a novel about the risks we all take as we live our lives. The conservative Christian world of central Michigan is certainly a far cry from the liberalism of California. What Louise learns by the end of the novel is that it's our assumptions that prevent us from seeing people as they truly are. Was Timothy McVeigh a murderer because he was a believer in militias and constitutional conservatism? Or is it possible to hold those views and still be against the murder of children?
Overall, this is a compelling and thoughtful novel. Pollack writes in present tense, which can be a bit off-putting (this is a very popular style these days, so you may not find it as artificial as I do). The novel does feel a bit long, and sometimes I did wonder how so many bad things could happen to these two people. But the ending worked for me, and I like Pollack's message about not judging a book by its cover. It's certainly a lesson worth learning.
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. Spoiler alert: if you haven't read the story stop reading here. Pollack devoted hundred of pages to the widening distance between the characters, but then the story just ended abruptly. Pollack just informs us that Louise confesses the affair and Richard already was on to her, and Ames wife forgives him and they move away, but we didn't experience any emotional confrontations or heart felt dialogue. The author should have assumed it would have been of more than just causal interest to hear that conversation between Ames and Natalie, I mean who would not want to be a fly on that wall? Pollack in her narrative voice just wraps it up for us, wham bang the end. It could have been better.
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.