cover image Heartbreaker


Claudia Dey. Random House, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525-51173-1

Dey (Stunt) brings readers into the unique world of “the territory,” a secluded town in the upper reaches of North America founded by a charismatic cult leader. The 391 residents live in an infinitely extended 1985, listening to Billy Joel and watching Dallas reruns in complete seclusion from the outside world. After Pony Darlene Fontaine’s mother leaves her and her father (known as “The Heavy”), Pony re-examines the rituals and conditions of her exile, while navigating her own girlhood. Subsequent chapters shift the perspective to the Fontaines’ dog, and then Pony’s crush, the boy known as Supernatural, as they join in the search for the vanished Billie Jean Fontaine. But it’s not the plot, the characters, or even the premise that makes this novel so extraordinary—it’s the voice, which is so utterly unusual and authentic as to seem like it’s really coming from a world of total isolation, turning up glittering aphorisms such as “Complaint is a form of self-degradation. Hardship is a matter of perception.” And yet, Pony’s inner self is as complex and vivid as any teenage girl’s; at one point she thinks, “I am the softest thing going.” Dey strips away the trappings of modernity to show what humans truly are at base, while eschewing the usual cult narrative. The result is a whole-cloth, word-for-word triumph of imagination. Agent: Martha Webb, CookeMcDermid. (Aug.)