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Robert McKean

Author of Mending What Is Broken

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Works by Robert McKean

Mending What Is Broken (2023) 3 copies


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Mending What Is Broken by Robert McKean is the type of novel that will elicit some laughs as well as some head-scratching about what the characters say and/or do. What bumped this up a little for me was how it kept coming to mind in the days after I finished it.

The problems the protagonist faces, and the other characters as well, are largely mundane, which means we can relate to them even if ours are different in specifics. Lethargy in life, relationship troubles, employment issues, even starting hobbies that are supposed to be relaxing. Peter, our protagonist, faces, or doesn't face, these problems in comical and sometimes absurd ways. Maybe we haven't done things exactly like this, but we've likely feared doing so and probably did do so once or twice.

This common ground, these issues we can all find ourselves facing, is what made the book and the characters keep coming to mind. I would think about something, whether in my life or in a news story or even a conversation with a friend and imagine what Peter would have done to try to fix it. Good intentions don't always result in good outcomes, though when pushed hard enough even those with a poor track record can get good results. I actually got some good laughs from imagining the ways Peter might have failed in these situations, not at him but with the fact that he is a bit like many of us, at least at times.

While I would recommend this to many readers, I might be a little more selective. Readers who must have action or who don't find common ground with characters experiencing rather mundane life experiences may become bored. For those readers who want to understand characters, who accept their share of the responsibility for making a novel work, I would definitely recommend this.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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pomo58 | 2 other reviews | Dec 20, 2023 |
Peter Sanguedolce is stuck. In his late forties, he is jobless after economic pressures forced him to close the family business. He lives in his folk’s house, his mother’s room still filled with her things.

His second wife married him when he was the boss’s son. Peter supported her through law school. She has dumped him for her law partner, Elliott. It wasn’t the step up she had envisioned. In the divorce, Peter was granted limited custody of their daughter, Jeanette, who is the light of his life.

The house next door to Peter’s has been sold and is slated to be torn down, replacing the charming colonial house with a mega-mansion. It had been the home of an irascible music teacher, a clarinetist who had dreamed of a career in performance before his daughter’s birth required a more settled and steady occupation. That daughter left home as soon as she could, and remains estranged from her father.

The new owners of the house planned a tear-down party, inviting the neighbors. As Peter talked to the wife, Faye, Jeanette was struck by an excavator, totaling her bike but sparing the child. Peter’s decision to tell the truth of what had happened to his ex precipitates a series of bad decisions that impacts his custody time with his daughter.

Elliott is over involved with overseeing Peter’s daughter during his visits, creepy and suspect. When Elliott’s dark side is revealed, Peter finally takes decisive action.

The story of divorced parents vying over how to care for their child may not sound like a comedy, but this novel is filled with laugh out loud scenes, memorable epigrammatic sentences like “Hartford’s freeways, he’s come to believe, were designed by someone who’d taken to sniffing airplane glue.”

Capitalism’s scythe has harvested the weak and spared her darlings.

from Mending What is Broken by Robert McKean
The closing of the mill, which made clay pipes, is part of the decline of the Rust Belt during “Reagan’s Morning in America,” and has gutted Peter. He struggles with letting the property go, as it is entangled with memoires of his father. The novel is an intimate reflection of the demise of the Rust Belt and its impact. Peter has so many memoires of the camaraderie at the mill and his life as a salesman before his father’s death. He desperately dreams of reviving it, although his lawyer warns it would be economic folly.

He loved life, the fecundity of it, the hilarious absurdity of it.

from Mending What is Broken by Robert McKean
I loved Peter, irresponsible by accident, but demonstrating great heart and compassion. Middle aged, overweight, but as loveable as a teddy bear, he attracts women needing comfort. He is the only one to visit his old neighbor in assisted living. He enters the half demolished house, endeavoring to save mementos from destruction, and interferes by trying to reunite his neighbor and his daughter. In the end, he is rewarded for his best decisions.

I so enjoyed this novel, which is part of a series McKean has written about the same fictional Pennsylvania community. I would definitely read more!

I received an ARC in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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1 vote
nancyadair | 2 other reviews | Jun 26, 2023 |