Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Shattered Reality Trilogy by Brenda Perlin: A Review.

Forget zombies, vampires, gargoyles and werewolves. And you can keep your ghosties, ghoulies and Game of Thrones thank you very much. 

Give me a story about people. Any time. Real people living real lives in the real world. 

These aren't sentiments you hear nowadays (bank managers of Contemporary Fiction writers tend to ask their clients to remember those things and throw in some romance and porn too, while they are at it), especially in genre-obsessed Indie where an impossibly handsome face wooing an unfeasibly beautiful girl and the uunnhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh emitted by a bile-dribbling zuvembie in the apocalyptic wasteland constitute the twin peaks of the zeitgeist.

Brenda Perlin's Shattered Reality trilogy (or Brooklyn and Bo Chronicles, depending on who you talk to) is about real people and is a BIG antidote to all that. 

The trilogy charts in graphic painful terms the destruction of two marriages in the early part of the new millennium, and maps the emergence of the new from the ashes. 

Like Elizabeth Wurzel's Prozac Nation, the famous, bestselling memoir of the author's battle with depression, Brenda offers the reader a faction approach - clear fact presented as fiction - and written partly in the form of a story in three parts. 

The first, Shattered Reality is about "Brooklyn", a beautiful LA gym instructor and ex-punk teenager who meets "Bo", a self made businessman twenty years her seniot, in the gym in which she teaches aerobics and cardio classes. 

All well and good, all very Prosecco and pearls - if you ignore the fact that both are married to other people. Long marriages too.   

The second, and best, Burnt Promises charts in minute, post-mortem detail the transition from one state to the other and the third, Fractured Vows, tells it from Bo's point of view.

The supporting characters are great to read, (though, as they are all aware of the series, you wonder what they actually think in real life: A little bird tells me there have been skirmishes). 

There is"Ruth"; Bo's psychotic, vain, spendthrift and, (of course) extremely vengeful ex wife, who assaults Brooklyn in the gym and subsequently wages a campaign of Stalingradesque terror on her wayward then-husband, and "Gerard", Brooklyn's grumpy, controlling, bemused, slightly downbeat other half who deals with the schism in a different way altogether.

Everything is laid on a slab. Brenda freely admits she doesn't consider herself a writer in the way others might, but one thing she can do is tell a story. 

Nothing is omitted: The traumatised e-mails from Ruth to Bo which are reproduced in their entirety, the bleak solicitor's letters between the parties, the midnight conversations between the two errant lovebirds, everything is recounted and shown to the reader.

Brenda doesn't care what you think of her either. Originally, the series was called Homewrecker, the ironic tag with which she anointed herself in the aftermath, before she was persuaded by various self-appointed (and misinformed, in my view) Indie gurus to change the title. 

In many ways, the irony in that original monicker reflects the vicious, dark, almost black comedic elements in the story. 

If you've ever been a wronged wife, a cuckolded husband, a guilty suitor about to rip the last remaining cells of life from someone else's dead marriage, or, better still, a woman on the brink of suicide who would sell herself to the devil to escape the prison of a union beyond repair, then you will recognise yourself in this and that is the series' beauty. 
In Burnt Promises, in particular, there are moments of great comedy in the unrelenting darkness. One of Ruth's e-mails recounted in full had me crying with laughter. And there are moments of great sadness - Brenda recounts a tale where she is emailing in graphic detail how good her new sex life is to a friend in Wisconsin, only to subsequently find out that Gerard, her ex husband, had hacked her e-mail account and was reading every word. 

I would have liked to have read more about the supporting characters. There are allusions to family friends who chose sides, lifelong friends who never spoke to Brooklyn again; friends who stuck by her, family members badly affected and recriminations of strangers, but perhaps Brenda wished to spare their privacy. 

All the same, it would have added an extra dimension The third book in particular rehashes old ground and it can occasionally come across as repetitive - more characters would have solved this issue.

And in all three books, even the one written from his point of view (Fractured Vows) Bo is underwritten. I wanted a clearer picture of him, some more motivation. Being a man, I would, wouldn't I? 

Like many memoirists, quite naturally, Brenda shines when recounting her own motives, which are crystal clear and unequivocal. (Her opinions and internal monologues about Ruth are worth reading too - comedy gold, some of them).

There is no purple prose; (though it's not bad either - fans of plain English will love it). You will find no allegories and assumptions and, as with most faction and memoir, there is plenty of exposition. 

Brenda doesn't pretend to want to change the world with her story and she has to be harassed to write more stuff (upcoming punk anthology LAPunkRocker, for example took months of persuasion to get her interested). 

She describes herself as being compelled to tell that story and tell it she does (or more accurately, she slays the beast, lays it on the marble slab, puts on her spectacles and doctor's coat and begins to dissect  - and there's one more metaphor than you will find in all three books!). 

And you need to be open minded to read it. Indie is  becoming increasingly conservative, in my opinion, and I can see people tut tut ing in the distance at the subject material and the occasionally amoral spotlight she shines on the situation she describes. 

There are no holds barred here. Confidences are betrayed, people get hurt, lives and personalities are exposed without permission and the war between the two women is shown in cold, stark detail. This can be hard reading.

Personally, I love that stuff (much more than I do stuff which can never happen; talking goblins, decaying, shambling zombies and ghosts under the bed, all that), and I find Brenda courageous for having the bottle to write it all down. 

I'll leave it to others to moralise about the whys and the wherefores - I''ll just enjoy the tale: And you will too.


Other news:

This is my 100th post on this blog. I have not been active lately as I have been depressed - football and political matters, thankfully, nothing serious - so hopefully you will enjoy Issue 100 as it were.


Georgia Rose's review of "Violent Disorder"

EL Lindley's review of "Criminals"

Sally Wilkinson's review of "Carla"

Thank you all, ladies.


  1. I loved Shattered Reality - Brenda's raw, honest portrayal of Brooklyn's life is just compelling reading. I'm looking forward to the next installment now thanks to your brilliant review. I might need a stiff drink first though :D

    1. I certainly needed a stiff drink last night at 2am. Compulsive reading - gave me BAD dreams too :-D I'll drop your SR review in when I get time - on library broadband and its erratic. Thanks for commenting, E!

  2. What a brilliant write-up! This has me wanting to go and open up Shattered Reality right now even though it does sound totally traumatising...I love stuff that is real as well Mark :-)

  3. Thank you, Georgia! You are in for a treat - though I think I have discovered where my turbulent night;s sleep came from! :-D I think such honesty is almost unique, certainly in my experience. Thanks for commenting once more and speak soon!

  4. Very nice write-up, Mr. Barry, and one I'm sure Brenda is thrilled with. She is nothing if not a candid, passionate writer, one who's willing to tell it like it is, toads and all, and I have no doubt a wide readership because of that. Kudos to you both!

  5. Great review. I kick myself eveytime I admit that I've started this but haven't finished it. In all honesty, I haven't finished anything in a long time, but this makes me want to start it up again. Thank you for sharing it.