Heartbroke unfolds in a chorus of yearning and sorrow, told in 11 different voices that Bieker inhabits with perfect pitch. Most of the stories are told in the first person and feel like they're being spun over beers at the Barge, where Alma tends bar. Bieker's opening lines suck you straight into the narrators' worlds ... The reader can always see the consequences of reckless desire before the protagonists, filling these pages with the dread that comes with yearning for the impossible ... While Bieker might not mend their broken hearts, she honors their pain and their undying longings, and will leave you aching for them.
Heartbroke falls within this tradition of writers fixing their lenses on the underbelly of small-town and rural America, examining the dark things that happen there before they entrap you into empathizing with people you might never meet in life—or want to. Bieker’s characters do bad things, sometimes terrible things. You want to yell at them ... It’s terrible to watch but also fascinating, because their terrible choices carry a whiff of the mundane, the ordinary, and when they survive—if they survive—you can’t help admiring them for it ... Heartbroke isn’t the stuff of bedtime stories, but it is embroidered with the stuff of American myth ... At particular moments, Bieker’s vignettes have the quality of a postcard sent by a Quentin Tarantino character, if that character grew up in Del Rey reading Flannery O’Connor and Annie Proulx ... Heartbroke is not quite our world, but it is very much of our world. It’s a place where the myth of the West is inseparable from the deflation of the American dream—a water-thirsty landscape in which we are all left to pull ourselves up by the straps of our turquoise boots and continue on as gracefully as we can.
Over and over these stories show us the various facets of motherhood, women who struggle or triumph or unequivocally fail in its practice. The realities are, if not surreal, hopelessly messy. Yet the collection is far from one-note and dreary. In several stories, Bieker takes on new voices and lets humor shine through ... If the collection loses focus at all, it is in its later stories that take us into the past, into raisin farming, internalized bigotry, and tellings of the past that provide context for earlier stories. While these tales...show off Bieker’s ability to inhabit other personas, not just wounded mothers and daughters, they lack the impact of the earlier stories, perhaps by showing off familiar characters, or perhaps by coming in late in an already densely packed book. Nevertheless, Heartbroke is a multilayered and oft-surprising take on a forgotten place in California.