Family connections, secrets, and the love of place are the primary themes of Lisa Unger’s Heartbroken: A Novel. And intriguingly, Heart Island, the Heart family’s summer home, is the place where they vacation every summer.
For Birdie Heart Burke, however, the island is so much more than a vacation home. She would stay there all year long if she could. At 70+, Birdie has many wonderful memories of childhood times here…and she also ponders the bitter rivalries in her life that insert themselves into those memories.
Birdie’s husband Joe doesn’t care for the island, nor do he and Birdie have much to link them any longer.
We open to Birdie’s thoughts and feelings, and then move along to other characters, such as Birdie and Joe’s daughter Kate. Mother to Chelsea and Brendan, Kate has made many poor choices, including her first marriage. But finally she is in a good place with husband Sean…and the secret she holds close to her heart. A secret she plans to share when they go to Heart Island.
On another side of town, and in a parallel existence, Emily struggles. She has always had the feeling of loss for something she cannot quite define, and her quest for love and acceptance leads to tangled love relationships: especially her current connection to Dean, who veers between caring and loving and harsh emotional abuse. Like the lab animal reinforced intermittently, however, she keeps hanging on, waiting for the loving part.
These three very different women will find themselves on a collision course within a short time.
Without giving away too many hints about the storyline, which comes together subtly, I must say that parts of it moved slowly, unlike Unger’s other fast-paced suspense tales; however, the richly layered characters kept me interested. Then at the end, events sped up and I felt as though I was in an Unger story at last.
Yet after the denouement, the story continued for a bit, showing the reader “aftereffects” that leveled me out a bit after the previous intensity. An unusual yet emotionally satisfying story: four stars.