We’re a little behind the curve in reviewing D. Foy’s debut novel Made to Break, a winter horror of sorts where a group of friends embark for a Tahoe cabin to binge on drugs and booze to ring in the New Year. The literary world has been applauding this book since it hit shelves in March, and while we might be late to the party, don’t count us out—we have applause to offer as well.
Made to Break is a boozy, fast-paced, tweaked out bingefest. Five friends, already high from days of partying, retire to Dinky’s cabin to celebrate New Year’s Eve and spend time with their friend Lucille, who is leaving their world of fun and recklessness for a corporate position. Her job transition serves as the impetus for the party, but also forces the pack of thirty-somethings to examine group dynamics—and thus themselves—on the eve of inevitable change.
When they arrive at the cabin a storm is in effect and the friends have duly ignored any warnings to exercise caution. A dead lovebird on the cabin floor causes the group only momentary pause, though the bird and surging storm outside portends badly. The narrator, AJ, and his friend Dinky, are chosen to leave the cabin for ice and unsurprisingly they incur a car crash. With Dinky severely injured and his car ruined, they are quickly faced with a higher stakes game. Dinky’s condition worsens and with no exit-strategy, group dynamics reach a feverish pitch.
Made to Break primarily focuses on the group: their treatment of Dinky and each other, but it also gives special consideration to AJ and his search for understanding. The setting swells in and out of the novel, creating tension that acts as a vessel to test the characters: “The wind roaring as it was, the water coming down as it was, not from the sky at the moment, but from the trees, with needles and leaves and dirt, and the groaning of the trees and the rush off the mountain of water still in sheets, it was all I could do to keep from turning back.” The disorderly nature of the storm is reminiscent of Jack London, and it contributes to AJ’s inability to come to terms with himself. He exudes a great deal of self-loathing, grappling to what extent he should—or is deserving of— poor treatment from his friends. AJ’s existential crisis drives a great deal of the text and Foy is an expert in unraveling his struggles with empathy and, also, disgust. The fact that AJ is so self-aware of his shortcomings derives sympathy, and Foy handles this beautifully.
The characters in Made to Break are fairy-tale like. With names like Dinky, Basil, Hickory, Lucille, and Super (the long-term Tahoe resident who guides them through the storm), the players contribute to an off-kilter sensation that permeates throughout book. To me, they are meant to be caricatures—the way they treat each other is strange and cruel, yet tinged with love. Their actions are measured, and follow a trajectory just clear enough to make sense, but there is a sense that everything is out of proportion. The entire novel is drug-fueled, which grounds this notion, but there is a more lyrical and headier handling of this group than a simple examination of the trials and tribulations of long-term friendship, and this is enhanced by the warped exposure into these characters’ lives. We all have old wounds, we all carry friendship baggage, but Foy handles this unwieldy and careless bunch with such deft handling, you are privy to a great deal more than first meets the eye.
Made to Break is fast and enjoyable and just cracked out enough to be pleasurable. It shares a kinship with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and On the Road, though it is executed in a style all its own. I’ll leave you with this passage, which feels like a complete offering, a lovely example of what Foy does so well.
Another fit had settled over Dinky, the coughing again, the same spewing again of blood and phlegm. I smoothed his blanket and dabbed his mouth. Hickory told me to kill my smoke, so I got up and took about fourteen slugs of bourbon. Then I went into the storm, hollering out for some wild old man, with his wasted monkey and bed of dolls and dog standing quietly by. An emptiness had opened up inside me. The night was wet and black and empty and cold, and I was scared, more so than I’d ever been. Maybe this is it, I thought, maybe this is where I’ll see the face no one but the dead have ever seen.
Applause, D.Foy. Applause.
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
Publication date: March, 2014
Reviewed by Kim Winternheimer