Cheated But Not Broken in “The Unbreakables”
You don’t have to be wearing rose-colored glasses to be blind to the flaws of the people you love: Sophie Bloom learns this the worst possible way when her forty-second birthday party culminates with the revelation that her devoted husband Gabe is anything but. Not only has Gabe cheated on her, he’s done so dozens of times during their long marriage—and has even had a fling with one of Sophie’s dearest friends. This is how The Unbreakables (Harper) by Lisa Barr begins.
Wrecked and unable to find comfort in what’s left of her fast-crumbling life, stable, dependable Sophie reacts in a decidedly un-Sophie way—and flees to France, where her college-aged daughter Ava is attending school.
After a quick trip to Paris, she extends her stay in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, an artist enclave, before landing in Provence. It’s during these later excursions that Sophie truly comes into herself. Although she abandoned sculpting to care for her family two decades earlier, she soon discovers her artistic dreams are still every bit as potent as they were then—and now, she finally has the freedom and agency to act on them.
Re-energized in a way she didn’t think was possible—and certainly not in the midst of heartbreak—Sophie vows to open herself to new experiences. She soon discovers her hidden desires extend beyond art, and she finds herself in a tryst with a younger French couple.
However unexpected, the experience reignites a latent sensuality in her and makes her look at her marriage with fresh eyes. Yes, her physical relationship with Gabe was more rote than she’d acknowledged—but it’s the realization that their partnership had been on autopilot, too, that truly shakes her to the core.
Then an opportunity to sculpt alongside a world-renowned artist leads Sophie to her most astonishing insight yet. She has a chance to recreate the life she left behind, only better. But does she even want it anymore? It would be an easier question to answer if Ava weren’t so intent on keeping her nuclear family intact.
Ava’s behavior is frustrating to read at times—and that’s exactly what makes this complex mother-daughter relationship so realistic. Barr is especially adept at describing the layers of familial loyalty and obligation that make some decisions infinitely more complicated than they appear on the surface.
In lesser hands, The Unbreakables could have been a very different book. But Barr masterfully crafts each of Sophie’s unplanned pivots, making this tale of midlife reinvention satisfying, revelatory, and wholly unique. Reading about how Sophie grapples with unearthed ambitions and attempts to balance her long-neglected needs with those of her loved ones, it’s impossible not to wonder if you, too, could shape wreckage into something beautiful. At the very least, this smart and unexpected story will inspire you to try.
The Unbreakables is now available.
Read more here.