Chapters 1-2 Summary
Published in 2004, Stephanie Kallos's debut novel, Broken for You, explores the relationship between an elderly woman who lives alone in a large Seattle house and a young woman whose heart needs mending.
Broken for You begins with seventy-five-year-old Margaret Hughes sitting in a doctor's office. Margaret has just been told that her frequent headaches are caused by a tumor. The doctor says that with surgery and chemotherapy, Margaret might have a couple more years to live. When Margaret asks about her prognosis if she decides not to have treatment, her doctor is stunned into silence. She then excuses herself, as if to go to the restroom, but she instead sneaks into the elevator and leaves the medical building.
As Margaret walks along the Seattle city streets in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, she comes to a cafe that specializes in desserts. When she notices that the cafe is devoid of customers, she walks in and orders four different sugary delicacies. She is served by a very thin young girl who has a nose ring, at which Margaret tries her best not to stare. The young girl is friendly, telling Margaret that she is studying film. When Margaret asks the young waitress what she would do if she had just been told she did not have long to live, the waitress, after reflecting on Margaret's question, answers she would do things that she had previously been afraid to do.
At this suggestion, Margaret decides to write an ad that she will place in the newspaper. She has decided that she will rent out a room in her enormous 15,000-square-foot Seattle home. Before placing the ad, however, Margaret reminds herself that she must first ask permission from her other "tenants"—Margaret's life-long collection of precious antiques. Over the years, especially since her divorce from her husband, Stephen, Margaret has come to consider her porcelain figurines and upholstered divans as friends and therefore tenants that share her home. Though she will consult these objects before advertising a room for rent, Margaret continues to write the ad as she finishes her desserts. While eating and sipping her tea, she also takes out a photograph of a young boy—her son, Daniel, who is no longer alive.
Later, Margaret is most impressed with the first person, Wanda, who responds to her ad. While showing Wanda around her house, Margaret is surprised and pleased that the young girl volunteers to fix a leaky pipe in one of Margaret's bathrooms. Wanda also takes the time to glue together a china cup that Margaret had dropped and cracked. While sharing tea, Wanda tells Margaret her history, which includes a story of a broken heart. After living with a young man for several years in New York, Wanda discovered that the man suddenly decided to set out on his own. Wanda has come to Seattle to look for him.
Chapters 3-4 Summary
The story continues through Wanda's eyes as she prepares to move into Margaret's house. Wanda has little to pack. She has brought none of her accumulated possessions from New York except for some of her clothes. She decided to come to Seattle because of a postcard she had received. On the front of the card was a picture of Seattle. On the back was only her address. There was no note, no signature, and no return address. Wanda believed the card was from Peter, the man she had lived with in New York. She could not imagine anyone else sending her an anonymous note. Peter could have done it because he missed her but did not want her to know how much. She understands Peter, she thinks. She knows that he is having trouble with his emotions. She has come to Seattle to look for him.
Wanda is a stage manager by profession and a good one. She knew that her reputation would follow her and that she would not have any trouble finding a new job. She was right. The biggest theater in Seattle has already hired her.
Her experience in the theater began in high school. Wanda had a knack for understanding the actors' needs and meeting them. She knew actors tended to be temperamental and often required negotiations among themselves as well as with the other stage professionals. That was her job. She had, over the years, proven her worth. In the past, she had many lovers, most of them actors, all of them connected some way or the other with the theater. That changed when she met Peter, who restored old furniture for a living.
On her way to Margaret's house, which is a mansion located in the outskirts of the city, Wanda reflects on her first impressions of the elderly woman. Upon meeting Margaret, Wanda had thought that the older woman could have perfectly played the role of a mother abbess of a nunnery. Margaret has a solid, androgynous physique and very reflective eyes, the color of a summer day. Though Margaret's house looked ancient on the...
(The entire section is 599 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Chapter 5 focuses on Margaret's background, her childhood and marriage. Her early years were blessed, she felt, as happy as a fairytale. He father loved and spoiled her, bringing her precious gifts from his travels all over the world. One of his best gifts was that he made her laugh. Her father also made everyone around him happy, everyone except for Margaret's mother.
Margaret's mother was a beautiful woman, athletic and long-legged in her youth. However, something changed her. When Margaret studied old photographs of her mother, she saw a happy woman, always smiling, always surrounded by friends. The mother the Margaret knew, however, was always sad, always lost in a dark mood. She hardly spoke, and when she did, Margaret's mother often spoke of bad news.
When Margaret's father came home from trips, he often brought Margaret priceless figurines. He taught her how to judge their worth by the materials they were made from and by the places in which they were made. The attention that her father paid to Margaret seemed to bother Margaret's mother. Her mother admonished her father for spending so much time and energy in teaching Margaret about his trade. When Margaret tried to share her joy at each new present, her mother turned away, telling Margaret that she had no interest in her father's treasures. When Margaret was twelve, her mother died. Margaret was told that something had exploded inside her mother's head. When Margaret was twenty-four, her father passed away in his sleep. From then on, she decided she was cursed and destined to be a spinster. She was not uncomfortable with the idea of never marrying. She had no financial worries and lived in a beautiful house filled with memories of her father.
A dozen years later, however, Margaret met Stephen Hughes, an artist. They fell in love and married. At first, Stephen seemed content to live off of Margaret's inherited wealth. Then later, when Stephen's art was not...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
Chapters 6-7 Summary
After Wanda moves in, Margaret is a little disappointed. The young girl is hardly ever home. She leaves the house early and often comes home late. She works six days a week. When she is home, she is very quiet and is seldom seen. This makes Margaret wonder why she has rented out the room. She surely did not need the money. She had thought that having Wanda in the house would somehow change her life. In some ways, Wanda's presence has changed Margaret. However, it is not the transformation Margaret had anticipated. Though she had not felt this when she was living by herself, Margaret now feels lonely.
As Wanda is completing her first week at Margaret's house and has her first day off work, she offers to fix dinner for Margaret. When Margaret says she will help, Wanda orders Margaret to sit down and just watch. Wanda has bought a new cookbook about macrobiotic diets and is anxious to begin a new nutritional regimen. Wanda wants balance in her life. She hopes that by incorporating the macrobiotic principles into what she eats, she will begin to see results. As she prepares the meal, Wanda talks to Margaret about the Chinese concepts of yin and yang, which Margaret has trouble grasping.
While Wanda is cooking, the phone rings. On the other end is Marita, Margaret's husband's second wife. Marita insists on calling Margaret at least once a month to check in on her. Margaret dislikes this intrusion. Marita wants to know who answered the phone. When Margaret tells her, Marita is shocked. She does not understand why Margaret would need to rent out a room to a stranger. She thinks that Margaret has made a terrible mistake. Before Marita is finished asking more questions, Margaret hangs up the phone. She tells Wanda she has always wanted to do that. A few minutes later, the phone rings again. It is Stephen, Margaret's ex-husband. He, too, is concerned about Margaret having a stranger living in the house. Margaret is equally annoyed with...
(The entire section is 511 words.)
Chapters 8-9 Summary
When Wanda announces that the production of the play at the theater where she is working is about to go into technical rehearsals and she will therefore be working longer hours, Margaret offers Wanda the use of her car. Up until then, Wanda had been riding a bike all over town.
At first, Wanda is shocked upon hearing this offer. Margaret is a little shocked too. Inside her head, Margaret had recently been hearing her mother's voice. When Margaret's mother heard her daughter's offer of the car, she told Margaret that she was crazy. This did not stop Margaret. She rarely drives and thus has no real use of the car except for an occasional trip into the city. She tells Wanda that it will take a day or two to make the...
(The entire section is 629 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Wanda had left a note for Margaret the previous night, telling her that she was still thinking about the use of Margaret's car. She explained that she was in the process of limiting the objects in her life and did not know for sure if she should now include a car.
Margaret awakes early that morning, before Wanda is awake. She dresses plainly until she hears her mother's voice criticizing her for looking like an old woman. Margaret searches one of her accessory drawers and finds a colorful scarf to wear. This placates her mother.
When Wanda wanders into the kitchen, Margaret watches her make coffee in a French press. While Wanda sips the coffee, Margaret reminds the girl about her offer to drive her to the...
(The entire section is 488 words.)
Chapters 11-12 Summary
Margaret receives a phone call from Gus. Wanda listens to the conversation and realizes that Margaret sounds like a school girl talking to a boyfriend. When Margaret gets off the phone, she is animated, much more lively than Wanda has ever seen her. From the overheard conversation, Wanda figures out that Margaret has a date. Tomorrow night, Margaret will go to dinner with Gus and then use the two tickets that Wanda has given her to the opening night performance of the play.
After work that night, Troy insists on walking Wanda to where she has parked the car. Though she tells him that she is a grown women who is used to living in New York, Troy will not hear of her walking alone. They hike the steep incline into the...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Chapter 13 opens in Margaret's house. Wanda is upstairs in her room. It is around noon, but Wanda has not come out of her bedroom all morning. When Margaret knocks on Wanda's bedroom door and enters, she finds Wanda in bed and surrounded by used, crumpled tissues. Wanda's eyes look bloodshot.
Margaret asks if Wanda is in a mood to help her do something. Wanda wearily rises and follows Margaret downstairs. While they are descending, Margaret encourages Wanda to bring home guests, male or female. Margaret then tells the girl that Margaret herself might have a guest soon. Mr. MacPherson has inferred that he would like to deepen their relationship. At this announcement, Margaret, uncharacteristically, twirls around like a...
(The entire section is 474 words.)
Chapters 14-15 Summary
Margaret tells Wanda that she is thinking of advertising for another boarder. She asks Wanda's permission to do so. Wanda will, after all, have to share her bathroom with the new female renter. Wanda says she has no problems with having someone else renting a room in the house. Margaret does not tell Wanda that this new person will be a live-in nurse, because Margaret does not want Wanda to know that she has a brain tumor.
At the theater, Wanda continues to tell herself that she does not want to become involved with her assistant, Troy. She is in love with Peter, she tries to convince herself. That was the reason she had come to Seattle. She needs to focus on finding Peter and not on her obvious physical attraction to...
(The entire section is 548 words.)
Chapters 16-17 Summary
Margaret is extending her invitation for roommates to Kosher Katz, as he is called, the caterer Margaret met at the opening night at the theater. The man had prepared the meal that was served to the actors after the play. He had impressed Margaret, so she is going to ask him to move in and prepare their meals. Gus, Margaret's new boyfriend, has also moved into Margaret's house.
Meanwhile, the play has run its course and is ending. Closing night at the theater made Wanda feel depressed. She did not like having to say good-bye to all the actors and other theater workers. Since the production was finished, Wanda was also out of a job.
After work, Troy walked her to her car again. Since it might be the last time...
(The entire section is 527 words.)
Chapters 18-19 Summary
In Chapter 18, the man with the gray ponytail is introduced. He is described as being lonely, someone without a "tribe." For this, people avoid him as if he had a contagious disease. This man, like Wanda, is looking for someone. One of the first things he did upon arriving in Seattle was to search the telephone directory, looking for someone whose last name begins with the letter "L." Then he looked in the Yellow Pages under the letter "B." He bought a city map and devised a plan. A few months before Wanda arrived in Seattle, this man bought a post card and mailed it to Wanda's family address in Chicago. He did not sign his name. He did not supply a return address. Now the man regrets having done this. He has come to Seattle to...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
Chapters 20-21 Summary
Michael, Wanda's father, had changed his name. He now called himself M.J. Striker. Once he had arrived in Seattle, he found a job at a bowling alley, the Aloha Lanes, in the northern section of the city. It was a rather rundown establishment, having been built in the 1960s and the sport having lost its popularity since then. However, M.J. felt very much at home there. He had worked in bowling alleys most of his life.
Rudy, the manager of the place, liked M.J. as he had grown tired of hiring young boys who wanted to play the old arcade games at the back of the lanes while they were supposed to be working. Rudy's doctor had diagnosed his stomach pains as the beginning of an ulcer, so he needed someone he could rely on....
(The entire section is 668 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
It is Easter Sunday, 1997, the same Easter day on which Wanda had been hit by a car outside the store that sold vintage records. M.J. had gone for a walk late that night. He was feeling restless and depressed. Easter did that to him. The day made him miss family. He had thought of calling his sister, Maureen, but decided against that. Then he remembered Irma had once told him that the best way to beat the blues was to move. He decided to put on his coat and go walking.
As he neared the record store, he saw a young woman in a long black dress standing outside the store. She was arguing with a young man, whom M.J. concluded was her boyfriend. Her tone of voice reminded M.J. of his wife. The emotion being expressed brought...
(The entire section is 477 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
Wanda's body is terribly broken, and she is in a coma for a long time as her bones heal. While sleeping, she is lost in frustrating nightmares. In her dreams, she often plays the role of a misfit actor. She is cast in roles she cannot master. She could not convince those around her that she is not an actor. Besides not remembering her lines, everything around her is misguided. She wonders where the stage manager is. Costumes do not fit. Lighting is wrong. When she speaks, she knows the audience cannot hear her. Finally, she realizes that she is the stage manager and is then forced to face her incompetence.
These nightmares often make her cry. Wanda's doctors and nurses take these sounds as positive signs. At least her...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
Chapters 24-25 Summary
Wanda wants to be neither a charity case nor a burden. After Wanda says that she has no right to stay as one of Margaret's tenants, Margaret makes a confession. Margaret tells Wanda that she needs her and then she explains why.
After her father died, Margaret took over his business. She was twenty-four years old. It was 1946. World War II was over. It took Margaret a while to realize how opportunistic her father had been. Many of the antiques that he had traveled to Europe to buy, she discovered later, had been confiscated by the Nazis from Jewish families. This realization came to light in the form of a formal complaint, issued by a Jewish man who had rushed into the antique shop one day, shouting at her. The profits...
(The entire section is 531 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
A year has passed, and Margaret has arranged for an exhibition of Wanda's mosaic pieces. As she is getting dressed for the affair, Wanda is modeling some fancy clothes that she has bought for the occasion. Susan and Bruce are helping Wanda decide what to wear. When Troy comes home, he becomes wordless when he sees Wanda dressed up. Wanda retreats to her room, trying to control the beating of her heart, though she will not admit that she loves Troy.
Meanwhile, across town, M.J. is helping Irma create an album of photographs of her life with Sam. Irma has heard that creating such an album is a way of healing. As she and M.J. go through the photographs, Irma asks M.J. questions about his past. She asks if he has...
(The entire section is 470 words.)
Chapters 27-28 Summary
Every three months, Margaret goes to the doctor’s office for a re-examination of her condition. For the past two years, with Gus’s care and yoga (at least this is what Margaret believes), the tumor in her brain has not grown. The doctor is amazed. So is Margaret. She feels very lucky. The doctor tells her to continue doing whatever she is doing.
Meanwhile, Wanda (who is known as Tink Schultz in the art world) is gaining recognition. The local papers have reviewed her work, and word is spreading. Gallery owners offer to give her shows. Travel magazines publish articles. National magazines promote her work. The telephone is constantly ringing.
Wanda has been working harder than she ever has and is showing...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
Chapter 29 Summary
M.J. is in Hawaii with Irma. Irma had promised to take him to Kauai. They are working with the Sierra Club, replanting a section of a park trail with flowering plumeria trees. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Margaret, Gus, and Susan are in Paris. Ever since she was a child, Margaret has wanted to see Paris. Her father went there several times. Now Gus is taking her. They will stay in France for two months. Margaret’s doctor was against the trip. He did not think Margaret was strong enough. Gus was completely supportive, wanting to give Margaret anything she wanted. Susan thought Margaret was being irresponsible, but Wanda had told Susan that she believed Susan’s job was to give Margaret the dignity of helping her...
(The entire section is 589 words.)
Chapters 30-31 Summary
M.J. is back in Seattle and working at the bowling alley. He is talking to a young, teenage girl who has come in. He has seen the girl before and is less than pleased with her dress and attitude. He feels that she must go out of her way to make herself unpleasant to look at or to be associated with. Her clothes are torn, her hair is unkempt, and her language is vile. Irma has noticed the girl too. She feels sorry for the child, sensing that she probably does not receive much attention or love at home. Irma encourages M.J. to take an interest in the child and at least teach her to bowl better. Then Irma tells M.J. a little about her life in Paris. After the war, Sam had taken Irma back to her old neighborhood. There she had met a...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Chapters 32-33 Summary
M.J. makes it to Margaret’s house. When he arrives, students greet him; they are busy unpacking ceramic figurines. M.J. is told stories about the pieces. Some of these stories are true and some are made up on the spot—a custom that has been established at the school. Every piece they uncover must have a story. M.J. is confused by the activity. He had expected merely to show up and take care of some legal matter for Irma. He did not want to hear all the sad stories. Then a student hands M.J. a plate and tells him he has to break it. It is has become a tradition required of all new students and visitors.
When Bruce comes into the room where M.J. is standing, he thinks M.J. is a volunteer. The house is filled with...
(The entire section is 620 words.)
Chapter 34 Summary
As she had wished, Margaret’s ashes are placed in several teapots and given to the people closest to her to do with as they choose. Troy mixes the ashes he receives into some grout he will use to make a new mosaic.
Margaret had taken care of most of their finances. She had invested the rent the boarders had paid her over the years. She had also left them all her stocks and created an endowment to ensure the school would continue. Wanda receives full ownership of her studio and all the remaining items in Margaret’s father’s collection. Gus is given the main house and all its furnishings.
M.J. has moved into the house. He continues his job at the bowling alley, and on the side he takes the job as...
(The entire section is 546 words.)