Broken Trip (Glad Day Books, 2004) by Peter Anastas consists of ten short stories that are tied together because they interact with the professional activities of Tony Russo, a welfare case worker, who provides his clients with shelter, food, medical treatment, and pats of encouragement. Reading the book is something like drinking a martini. At first one feels the astringent taste and then the BANG hits you. Not all the stories have the same punch, but as a group they pack a stunning wallop. There is so much agony, suffering and loss among some of the characters that they remind me of sinners in Dante’s Inferno, whose obsessions were similarly painful and everlasting. Perhaps a saving factor in this collection of down-and-out stories is that they end, as poet George Oppen puts it [in an epigraph] at the beginning of the book, in a place where all human emotions ultimately founder.
While the book has a
The most interesting character in the book for me is Larry, Rochelle’s understanding husband. For all his good will, Tony functions as a device. It is through him that the stories are told in a concise reportorial manner that shifts from inner thoughts and outer taunting dialogue. Tony may understand the world, but Larry sustains his wife Rochelle, who has had to cope with abuse from her dope-afflicted mother and Roy, her mother’s lover, and her murder of
There are many surprises in Anastas’ book. His criticism of the Department of Public Welfare, now changed to Department of Transitional Assistance, is justified at least for people who accept the burden of being their brother’s keeper. It is not
One of the bigger surprises is that the drugs that infest Gloucester and, for that matter, all of the Massachusetts North Shore, do not come from the fishing boats—though some do—but from dealers in Boston. The book does not propose a cure for addiction, unless it be through methadone, therapy and analysis. Except perhaps for Tolstoy, there is no reason why a writer of a naturalistic work of fiction should try to solve all the world’s problems.
Finally, “Has Gloucester changed and not for the better?” The “Broken Trip” is when a boat returns without fish. Anastas does not give alternatives; but certainly the 19th and 20th century fishing town of
(Richard M. Amero is a writer and historian, who lives in
'Broken Trip' a compelling,
brutal tale of
by Rae Franceour
By Peter Anastas. Glad Day Books,
decline of its fishing industry? On the eastern
breathtakingly beautiful city is amassing a body
of its own literature.
notable for their depiction of a heroic culture that
in recent decades battles despair.
Peter Anastas, a
brilliantly chronicled the struggle in Broken
Trip, an unusual book that straddles fiction and
nonfiction. For lack of a better name, it is labeled
a novel. And though there is some continuity
provided between chapters, it is really a series of
telling episodes in the life of
of her people. Love, loyalty and family; drugs
and alcohol; fishing; incest and violence; poverty
and its accompanying depravity are strong
themes in this deceptively easy to read, but hard
to digest book.
As the recently retired director of advocacy and
housing at Action in
acutely attuned to the hardships this city endures.
His book's title, Broken Trip, is a localism for a
fishing trip that doesn't meet expectations due to
weather, technical problems, or lack of fish. And
though Anastas wears many hats on the
father of the respected young author Benjamin
Anastas, resident expert on poet Charles Olson -
his 30 years working at Action indelibly inscribed
themselves on his writer's soul.
I marveled at the simplicity of Anastas' language
- simple, declarative sentences that gently take
you by the hand with words like "Everybody
knew when the checks came" or "For nearly 10
years, Jimmy Skag had been living at the
homeless shelter" and draw you deep, deep into
the troubled lives of the book's characters.
characters and hardships to one another. The
one man with something tangible to offer that
might sustain rather than corrode lives, Tony has
the resources and the mindset to help.
Characters show up at his office, sometimes
simply in need, sometimes overtly hostile but
desperate. He seems to have seen it all. And
since he's one of them, a
without pretense, he's approachable. Anastas
gives Tony his own trials, as well. As a result, the
stable figure amid those in terrible crisis does not
come off as paternalistic - a credit to Anastas,
who must have struggled with this very problem
There are a couple of recurring characters, but
nothing close to what readers would expect in a
traditional novel. In the second chapter, "The
Snow Man," we are introduced to Rochelle,
whose father was gunned down by the police
and whose mother died of an overdose.
Rochelle, a bright and talented young woman, is
left with a baby sister to raise. Tony encourages
her to apply for public assistance to help with
expenses after she drops out of school. At the
end of the book, Rochelle shows up again, years
later, as an inspired psychiatric nurse for whom
Tony serves as both peer and confidante.
At the Cut, Anastas' last published work - a
memoir about growing up in
provided clues to what was to come with
Broken Trip. Anastas is unflinching in his
portrayals of incest, violence, sex, drug use and
domestic chaos. Some of his writing about these
matters is utterly poetic, especially when he
describes Skag getting high on heroin or a
mother reminiscing about her own early highs as
she watches her drugged daughter act out on the
street. Other scenes in Broken Trip are brutal.
Be forewarned. And Anastas' way with dialogue
is impressive. Not once does he aim for anything
other than simplicity of language and brevity in
description; yet, by the end of Broken Trip, we
are completely absorbed - or is it ensnared? He
has us by the heart.
When A Perfect Storm was first published,
author Sebastian Junger worried about how
would react. For the most part, people took the
story about the hard-living, ill-fated group of
fishermen in stride. Broken Trip is a much,
much tougher book. In the chapter titled "Psych
Unit," an outsider who chose to live in nearby
Rockport tells Rochelle, "Maybe that's why
Anastas doesn't judge. His writing carefully,
dispassionately reveals one aspect of the
his last walk home from his job, which was
terminated due to cuts in funding, he considers
the neighborhoods, the fishing industry's decline,
and the years he'd spent working for its people.
"I guess it's been a broken trip," he concludes,
Hard Times in Anastas' Stories: the American dream slides out of reach
By Greg Cook
The title of Peter Anastas' new book, "Broken Trip," comes from local slang for an unprofitable fishing voyage, but in his stories it becomes a metaphor for the devastating effects of poverty in
"What I'm trying to do is show what it feels like, what does it really feel like, to have a low-paying job; what does it feel like to live on the edge? When I wrote the book (in the 1990s), the country was in one of its biggest economic booms ... and I was trying to think about the enormous irony of this huge wealth that was being generated in America and people here in Gloucester not participating in it in any significant way," Anastas said.
In one story, a woman turns to heroin to help ease the pain after her boyfriend is wrongly gunned down by police. Their daughter struggles for a normal life, living with her grandmother, taking care of her baby sister, going to school, but this is threatened after her mother dies and her sister's father steals into their home to claim his daughter and attacks the older sister.
In another tale, a woman falls into trouble when she becomes enamored of a bad boy. In a story inspired by an actual crime, a damaged boy and his friend savagely murder a homeless man at his camp in the woods along the railway tracks.
They are tales, told in a deceptively simple manner, about generations of parents and children struggling to forge relationships amidst ravaged lives. Junkies overdose. The state Department of Social Services removes children from homes. Jobs disappear. People apply for social services, medical care, food stamps, housing subsidies. Anastas takes an unblinking look at drug and sexual abuse, AIDS and teenage pregnancy. This personal devastation is paralleled by larger collapses - the fishing industry sputtering under tighter and tighter government regulations and the social service net shrinking under corporate consolidation and government cutbacks.
If you know
"It comes out of living here my whole life and knowing there's not just one
Starting out, he packed fish and reported for the Gloucester Daily Times. He went on to be a social worker with the
"'Broken Trip' is really a book I couldn't have written unless I'd worked at Action for 30 years, because working at Action took me into the heart of the culture of poverty in Gloucester, and few people have had that experience. I felt it was my responsibility as a writer to write about it," Anastas said.
"I wanted to have a certain objectivity in the book so that I could dramatize attitudes that are prevalent in the community," Anastas said. "And really the vehicle for this is fiction because it enables you to use your imagination in dealing with reality. It enables you to expand on reality. You have a broader scope. In a nonfiction book, you're pretty much restricted to what happened and why it happened, just as you are in journalism. In fiction, you can imagine the consequences of actual events or you can imagine alternatives. In nonfiction, you have to stay with the people. In fiction, you can make them up. Every character in this book was made up."
Anastas' last book, "At the Cut," from 2002, was a frank look at his childhood in
Anastas began thinking of characters and stories in the late 1980s, but didn't begin writing until about a decade ago. He finished his latest book around 1997, but it took him a while to find a publisher. Finally, Glad Day Books decided to take it on. The Thetford, Vt.-based publisher was formed by novelists (and husband and wife) Grace Paley and Robert Nichols around 1998 to publish fiction, nonfiction and poetry addressing social change.
Speaking of Anastas' book, Paley said, "The stories are about ordinary people and how hard their lives are. This is kind of an essential fact that needs to be seen in the literary world."
Anastas explained, "I wanted to write about
There are glimmers of hope in Anastas' stories as people begin to turn their lives around, but the overall mood is bleak.
"One agent I sent this book to said to me, 'I like the writing, but there's no redemption.' My answer is, I don't believe in redemption. I'm an existentialist and I have an essentially tragic view of life. For me, life has no inherent meaning. The only meaning is what we give it by our acts. It's as simple as that," Anastas said.
Counselors, social service providers, medical workers and police officers, as Anastas put it, "populate the book in a quiet way." One recurring character is the welfare case worker, Tony, the son of an Italian fishing captain who serves as Anastas' alter-ego.
"What I wanted to show, not just in
"...Without the helping professions, many people would live less happy lives and less productive ones. I wanted to show Tony as a person who had the gift of education, unlike so many people we grew up with, and he didn't use that to enrich himself. He used that to help other people, to give to other people, and that's what life is all about. That's basically been the whole tenor of my life."