THE BREAKDOWN LANE by Jacquelyn Mitchard
April 5, 2005
THE BREAKDOWN LANE was my first book by Jacquelyn Mitchard, and it was not what I had expected. In some ways, her writing style reminded me (at first) of Joyce Carol Oates, a writer that I have read once and had a very hard time reading, but by the time I read the last page, I said, "Wow!". Mitchard writes her stories in somewhat the same way. At least in THE BREAKDOWN LANE, the characters reminded me of those in Oates' WHEN WE WERE THE MULVANEYS. Lots of characters that you aren't sure you will like, and one that I totally loathed and despised, populated THE BREAKDOWN LANE.
Julie is a middle-aged woman who has never been called traditional. And neither is her husband. Julie grew up with a famous father (a writer) and lived with wealth. Her husband is Jewish and his childhood was quite different. This book isn't so much about their relationship, but about two people that go through some really weird stuff as her husband Leo seems to be going through a really bad mid-life crisis, but it's more than just that. Leo pretty much "drops out" of society and lives his life as he pleases, not really caring about how it impacts those around him. Julie in the mean time is going through some major health issues, and eventually finds out she has MS. With a jerk of a deadbeat husband and three kids that need them both, she is at her wit's end.
While I enjoyed this story, I don't know if I liked the way that it was told. There was something missing. Sometimes I felt that the author jumped ahead when she shouldn't have, skipped things to make time pass faster. Sometimes it worked, but I felt that this is one of those instances when a book should have been longer. My guess is that either the editor made her cut out a lot (to keep it a mainstream novel) or the author simply got lazy. I'm guessing it's the former.
I really admire a writer, however, that can make you hate a character as much as I hated Leo. There are men (and women) like this in the world. Leo was a sociopath who can justify everything he did. He was a poor excuse for a father, a husband, and a human being. He definitely needed psychological help. I felt bad for Julie, although I can't say that I "liked" her. But I liked the way the author portrayed her.
I did feel the ending came on too soon, that things were wrapped up too quickly, and I didn't think this book should have had a "happy" ending. But, maybe that was better than a totally sad ending, since readers would have really been upset. I have one more book by her on my TBR shelves (her Oprah selection) that I guess I should try to read later this year. It would be good to compare the two books.