As much as we may enjoy flashy stories about fantastical characters (you know, like mind-reading waitresses , sparkly vampires, and serial killers), the most moving, powerful fiction most often comes from the stories of ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Such is the case with David Klein's newest book, Clean Break. It tells the story of four people-Adam, Celeste, Jake, and Sara-and the way their lives randomly intersect, causing each person's path to be drastically changed as a result.
Celeste is a wife and mother, living the dream in the wealthy suburbs of New York. At least, she is until she discovers that her husband, Adam, has gambled away all of their savings, and finds himself in debt to some unsavory characters. Adam, for his part, admits he has an addiction, and goes off to rehab, certain that this will make everything OK between he and Celeste. But Celeste has other plans. After years of making excuses and forgiving his transgressions, she leaves him while he is in rehab. When he comes out, he is determined to get her back-and even justifies a return to gambling (short-term, of course) as a way to get the money to convince her he can be a good husband.
Things come to a head one night when Celeste discovers that her husband has once again gambled away all of his money. When she confronts him, and asks for a divorce, Adam attacks her. Lucky for Celeste, Jake stumbles upon them on his way home from work, and he is able to diffuse the situation and save her from any further harm. Jake, for his part, is at the end of an affair with an NYPD officer, Sara. When Celeste comes to thank him for his help, he becomes infatuated with her. But will be do whatever it takes to make her safe?
The story is told from alternating perspectives, a narrative structure that has become more and more common for this type of story. Each person becomes the protagonist of their own chapters, and Klein is able to show each person's mental journey to the choices they eventually make. Despite some initial sympathy, Adam end up being a very unsympathetic character indeed. But the other three characters are more layered. Each person is flawed in some way, but trying desperately to do the right thing in the face of their own bad choices.
The title is a bit on-the-nose regarding the essential question of the story-is it possible to get a "clean break"? But each characters is, in their own way, trying to find a new way to be. They want to shed their old selves and become better. But each one is fighting against something-their own nature, their past relationships, guilt over past actions. The thing about making new start is that it is impossible to completely leave all of your past behind. We are, each of us, the function of all of our experiences-good, bad, or neutral, each person we come into contact and each decision we make forms who we are, and we can't help but be affected by the patterns of thought and behavior they create. But sometimes, we end up doing something that we never would have guessed we were capable of doing. Whether that ends up being a good or bad thing is up to us.