Heartbreaker opens in 1985 with a mystery. Billie Jean, who arrived in the place known as “the territory” (population: 391) 16 years ago—the only person to arrive since the community was founded—abruptly drives off, leaving behind her 15-year-old daughter, Pony, and husband, The Heavy. Where—and why—did Billie Jean go?
Part of the pleasure of this novel is piecing together the culture that grew in this petri dish of isolation, as told by people who have known only this ... Absent an obvious guru or fanatical fervour, Heartbreaker doesn’t read quite the same as recent cult fiction. Instead, it brings to mind Sun Belt’s 2015 experimental fiction Cabalcor: An Extracted History, which tells the story of a fictional tar sands company town, its unique culture and demise ... What emerges from beneath the details of territory life is a completely unsaccharine novel about motherhood as a force, the way a storm is a force.
...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 ... 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.
Heartbreaker is a fever dream of a novel, a hallucination, grounded and bitter and a little bit morbid, fantastic and unearthly and confusing and yet enthralling. Think of it as Winter’s Bone meets Blossom meets Timothy Leary meets the better parts of M. Night Shyamalan ... Heartbreaker’s biggest flaw is that it’s sometimes hard to follow the thrust of the narrative, which zips and zooms hallucinogenically between anecdotes. Sometimes this can be disorientating, and it will take reading an entire paragraph to fully replace yourself back into the story as it zooms off onto another tangent ... Heartbreaker is a difficult to define reading experience; it’s one of the most unique books I’ve ever read, and while it was sometimes a struggle to get to the end, the experience was richly rewarding. It’s one of the best and strangest reading experiences I’ve had all year.