Title: Broken Monsters
Author: Lauren Beukes
No. of Pages: 448
Origins: Mulholland Books
Release Date: 16 September 2014
Bottom Line: Intense but doesn’t quite mesh
“Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?
If you’re Detective Versado’s geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you’re desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you’re Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you’ll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe—and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world.
If Lauren Beukes’s internationally bestselling The Shining Girls was a time-jumping thrill ride through the past, her Broken Monsters is a genre-redefining thriller about broken cities, broken dreams, and broken people trying to put themselves back together again.”
Thoughts: Broken Monsters follows the story of several Detroit citizens over the course of a murder investigation. The murder is gruesome, guaranteeing a reader’s interest, but the story never quite develops as thoroughly as one hopes it would. The multiple characters and their stories prove too difficult an obstacle for the story itself to overcome. While the characters’ paths eventually meet, they never really merge and blend into one story as one expects. Rather, their stories remain disparate and uneven, and the story suffers as a result.
For one thing, Broken Monsters is an ambitious novel. Ms. Beukes attempts to cover not only the modern-day sensationalism of murder stories but also life online as well as an inside glimpse into the shell that once was Detroit. Only the theme of damage joins them together. Taken individually, each element is worthy of contemplation. Together, however, they lose their collective power and prove to be more disruptive to the flow of the story than conducive to it. There is too much weight to each element, and their combination lessens the effectiveness of the lessons from each. There is such a thing as being too ambitious, and Broken Monsters falls directly into that trap.
The characters themselves are numerous and diverse; keeping them straight is challenging at times. The cast also tends to follow a set list of expected characters – the single mother with a historically masculine career, the moody teenage daughter, the jaded journalist in the throes of a mid-life crisis, a world-weary homeless man with a heart of gold, and the lost and lonely man who eventually seeks redemption in the form of his gifts to the world. They are all caricatures, with little in the way of character development. The resulting lack of empathy a reader feels for the characters, as well as their continued flatness only does the story a greater disservice.
Taken as a whole, the story does not work well, but there are bursts of extreme insight and fascinating ideas. Through the jaded journalist and the sullen teenage daughter, readers explore the power of the Internet and the quite bizarre ways it has taken over our lives. While the novel does touch on every major Internet faux pas that exists – child predators, Internet bullying, instant YouTube celebrity status, voyeurism, and the general inhibitions people tend to ignore when online – it does raise many a question about its power to raise or destroy, the impact one comment on one video can have on someone else’s life, and just how easy it is to manipulate the truth to serve one’s purpose.
Then there is the phoenix-like elements of Detroit. The jaded journalist originally sets out to tell the story of the beauty hidden underneath the ruins. The pictures drawn of the rising art culture among the many decrepit and abandoned buildings is at once beautiful and inspiring. Even Detective Versado’s refusal to cave to the general malaise brought about by a city in desperate straits is inspirational. Both stories show the resilience of human nature and of an inability to give up and give in when it would be the path of least resistance to do just that.
Unfortunately, the hodgepodge of the characters’ stories diminishes the flashes of brilliance interspersed throughout the novel. By the time a reader gets to the end with its potentially supernatural elements, the story has become more a chore than a pleasure. Readers will not care enough to devote adequate attention to the is-it-real-or-a-dream showdown between the characters, while the suspense that should capture a reader’s interest never actually occurs. The result is a novel that is intense at times, fascinating at others, but overall a disappointment given the talent readers know Ms. Beukes has.