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Heartbreaker
Cover of Heartbreaker
Heartbreaker
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
The love between a daughter and her mother—and the dark secrets they keep from each other—are at the heart of this wildly imaginative novel that combines elements of The Handmaid's Tale, Stranger Things, and Twin Peaks.
"I love Heartbreaker's outlandishness, its sizzling energy—the bright, fierce music in every sentence."—Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks
It's 1985. Pony Darlene Fontaine has lived all her fifteen years in "the territory," a settlement founded decades ago by a charismatic cult leader. In this strange town run on a sinister economic resource, the women crimp their hair and wear shoulder pads, and the teenagers listen to Nazareth and Whitesnake on their Walkmans. Pony's family lives in the bungalow at the farthest edge of town, where the territory borders the rest of the wider world—a place none of the townspeople have ever been.
Except for Billie Jean Fontaine, Pony's mother. When Billie Jean arrived in the territory seventeen years prior—falling from the open door of a stolen car—the residents took her in and made her one of their own. She was the first outsider they had ever laid eyes on. Pony adores and idolizes her mother, but like everyone else in the territory she is mystified by her. Billie Jean refuses to describe the world she came from.
One night, Billie Jean grabs her truck keys, bolts barefoot into the cold October darkness—and vanishes. Beautiful, beloved, and secretive, Billie Jean was the first person to be welcomed into the territory. Now, with a frantic search under way for her missing mother, Pony fears: Will she be the first person to leave it too?
Told from the three unforgettable perspectives of a daughter, a killer dog, and a teenage boy named Supernatural, this novel is startling in its humor and wrenching in its wisdom about the powers, limits, and dangers of love. Heartbreaker is an electrifying page-turner about a woman reinventing herself in order to survive—and a daughter who must race against the clock to untangle the mysteries left in her mother's wake.

Praise for Heartbreaker

"A fierce exploration of memory and zeitgeist . . . Heartbreaker is a darkly comedic weirdo of a book that pulls the string of nostalgia from one side while unraveling it from the other."The Paris Review

"This is a book like no other. It's eerie, it's cult-y, it's so very exciting, and I never wanted it to end."Buzzfeed, Best Books of Fall 2018

"Claudia Dey renders 1985 in perfectly crimped, shoulder-padded detail. . . . Come for the Shyamalanian premise. Stay for the hard-rock soundtrack."Chicago Tribune
The love between a daughter and her mother—and the dark secrets they keep from each other—are at the heart of this wildly imaginative novel that combines elements of The Handmaid's Tale, Stranger Things, and Twin Peaks.
"I love Heartbreaker's outlandishness, its sizzling energy—the bright, fierce music in every sentence."—Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks
It's 1985. Pony Darlene Fontaine has lived all her fifteen years in "the territory," a settlement founded decades ago by a charismatic cult leader. In this strange town run on a sinister economic resource, the women crimp their hair and wear shoulder pads, and the teenagers listen to Nazareth and Whitesnake on their Walkmans. Pony's family lives in the bungalow at the farthest edge of town, where the territory borders the rest of the wider world—a place none of the townspeople have ever been.
Except for Billie Jean Fontaine, Pony's mother. When Billie Jean arrived in the territory seventeen years prior—falling from the open door of a stolen car—the residents took her in and made her one of their own. She was the first outsider they had ever laid eyes on. Pony adores and idolizes her mother, but like everyone else in the territory she is mystified by her. Billie Jean refuses to describe the world she came from.
One night, Billie Jean grabs her truck keys, bolts barefoot into the cold October darkness—and vanishes. Beautiful, beloved, and secretive, Billie Jean was the first person to be welcomed into the territory. Now, with a frantic search under way for her missing mother, Pony fears: Will she be the first person to leave it too?
Told from the three unforgettable perspectives of a daughter, a killer dog, and a teenage boy named Supernatural, this novel is startling in its humor and wrenching in its wisdom about the powers, limits, and dangers of love. Heartbreaker is an electrifying page-turner about a woman reinventing herself in order to survive—and a daughter who must race against the clock to untangle the mysteries left in her mother's wake.

Praise for Heartbreaker

"A fierce exploration of memory and zeitgeist . . . Heartbreaker is a darkly comedic weirdo of a book that pulls the string of nostalgia from one side while unraveling it from the other."The Paris Review

"This is a book like no other. It's eerie, it's cult-y, it's so very exciting, and I never wanted it to end."Buzzfeed, Best Books of Fall 2018

"Claudia Dey renders 1985 in perfectly crimped, shoulder-padded detail. . . . Come for the Shyamalanian premise. Stay for the hard-rock soundtrack."Chicago Tribune
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    This is what I know: she left last night. My mother, Billie Jean Fontaine, stood in our front hallway with a stale cigarette in one hand and her truck keys in the other. The light in our hallway was broken or dying so it flickered above her head, throwing shadows across her face. I don't know how long she was standing there watching me.

    I was only feet away on the couch in my nightpants trying to arrange my body like the woman in that Whitesnake video. It was not going well. The television was on, and I had our telephone receiver pressed hard against my left ear. My ear had gone numb listening to Lana on the other end breathing heavily, which made me picture, unfairly, Lana's dog, a dog, unlike our dog, of low intelligence. Together in silence, we watched Teen Psychic. The show was already at the love line, making it close to seven o'clock, and 1985, and late October. Teen Stewardess was on next, and for this, I felt deep excitement.

    I had my outerwear smoothed flat on my lap. With a black permanent marker, I was filling in the cap letters I had written across the back. I would debut and copyright these later at the bonfire. Note there is no such thing as permanent. Especially in a marker you find in a snowdrift. I also found my camo outerwear in said snowdrift, the snowdrift that borders the north highway outside Neon Dean's pink bungalow, which on Free Day can be a bonanza. A few other things to keep in mind at this moment: I had almost a hundred dollars in small denominations hidden inside the album covers in my bedroom, twelve jerry cans of gasoline stashed in the woods behind our house, hair to my tailbone I had recently tried to self-feather, and my mother had not come downstairs for two months.

    "I am going into town." My mother spoke this astonishing sentence not to me but to the cold air around me. She had not left our bungalow since the end of July, and it was now almost three months later. Winter had set in. Outside, the trees were skeletal, and the hunters were urinating on their hands to warm them. The men called this dicking the hands. I dicked my hands to turn my keys. Same. Dicked my hands right there on my front porch. Same. Had to dick my hands to cock my rifle. This was the kind of talk you might hear if you went into Drink-Mart for some homemade alcohol. There, under a half-busted chandelier, listening to Air Supply, the men of the territory gathered to clean their rifles with their wives' old tan pantyhose while being stared at by a wall covered with the beautiful heads of our animals.

    Air Supply. A band name none of us wanted to read into.

    I joined my mother in the hallway. I had not seen her upright for weeks and now looked down at her scalp, the hair broken in places. Beauty, what is beauty? Beauty is cheap. Beauty is common. Beauty is luck. My father, The Heavy—known for many things but mostly his severe facial issues—loved to say when he first laid eyes on my mother, it was not like the stories you hear about beauty. A man struck down by a woman's beauty. Taken by a woman's beauty. No. Not at all. My father liked to say when he first laid eyes on my mother, he had never seen anyone quite so alive.

    She was wearing her indoor tracksuit. It hung from her frame and was the color of dirty water. I knew not to touch her, and this was difficult, so I pushed my hands into the large pockets of my nightpants. I had done my bloodwork that morning and was still feeling a bit faint. Moving quickly from the couch to the doorway, I was seeing sparks, and the strobe-light effect of the dying bulb above us was not helping, so I tilted my head down slightly and leaned...

About the Author-
  • Claudia Dey is the author of Stunt, a Globe and Mail and Quill & Quire Book of the Year. Her plays have been produced internationally and nominated for the Governor General's Award and Trillium Book Award. Dey's writing has appeared in many publications, including The Paris Review and The Believer. Dey has also worked as a horror film actress and a cook in lumber camps across northern Canada, and is co-designer of Horses Atelier. She lives in Toronto. Heartbreaker is her American debut.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 25, 2018
    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, McDermid Agency.

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Heartbreaker
A Novel
Claudia Dey
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