Juliana Aragon Fatula’s book review of Leslie Larson’s Breaking Out of Bedlam


Leslie Larson grew up in San Diego to a working class family. After earning a degree in literature at the University of California, San Diego, she moved to London and began working in publishing. She eventually moved back to California and began freelance writing. In 2006, she published her first novel, Slipstream, which won the Astraea Award for Fiction.

Dear Reader,

I have been working with a great writer and editor through Macondo Writers Foundation this July and have just finished reading this amazing book written by my new mentor, Leslie Larson. I want you to trust me when I recommend this book for belly laughs and interesting characters and storyline. I laughed out loud and had to stop for breaks but read this page turner cover to cover in one day. I am a mystery reader snob and this is a great book, not a good book, hear me? A great book. Please give Breaking Out of Bedlam a read and you can thank me later.

Leslie will be helping me to fine tune my mystery, the Colorado Sisters and the Atlanta Butcher and teaching me how to write a page turner.

Breaking Out of Bedlam is written with humor and suspense.  The main character reminds me of my mom. Cora is a senior citizen living in assisted living. She has her flaws but I fell in love with her from page one. She writes in her journal, “I got a plan. I’m going to write down everything I ever wanted to say. I’m not holding nothing back and I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks…” She continues in her journal, “I’ve done things I’m not proud of, I lied to keep myself alive because life is hard and there’s things you got to do. But now I got nothing to lose. I’m going to tell the truth once and for all. I hope those that put me in this place read it when I’m dead, which I have a feeling won’t be long. Maybe then they’ll see…”

In her journal she writes about her past and present, “Sometimes I think I should never have had kids in the first place.” Her adult children send her to The Palisades, assisted living. She calls it the shit hole, snake pit, hell hole, lock em’ up and throw away the key jail.  “I got another reason for keeping this book…Something fishy’s going on in this place and I want a record in case anything happens to me…There’s whispering, and shifty looks, and things gone missing.”

Larson’s writing literally lifted my pandemic blues and gave me new enthusiasm for finishing my novel. She inspired me and I’m thankful for her and her novel, Breaking Out of Bedlam. I realized that I have the skills I need to finish my novel and with a little help from my friends, it can be just as great as Larson’s story of a woman who just wants to go home and die in her own bed, not in assisted living.

Her characters are zealous and hilarious. Cora has magical mad ideas and an eye for investigating the mystery, who is the thief? She writes in her journal, “I’d lost track of a lot of those pills I saw piled in front of me but I do know I worked hard to get them, going around to different doctors and scraping and bowing and acting innocent–and I couldn’t bear to see them takin’ away from me.”

She becomes addicted to her drugs and spends her golden years in a stupor of popping pills, sleeping, and wishing she would die. She stays high as a kite and talks about being called lazy by her Missouri relatives and writes, “The God’s honest truth that a lot of the time I just can’t get out of bed…I’m here to tell the truth. I’m sick and tired of pretending I’m happy.” She trades sticks of chewing gum for Percocet and buys residents’ prescription drugs for a quarter a pill.

She has feuds with a resident, Ivy Archer, who she calls Poison Ivy. “Someone I hate more than the devil himself…She accused me of something I got nothing to do with…I got to show that I’m innocent as a lamb.”

She refers to the residents in full care, Ward B,  as pissers, droolers, and moaners until she meets Vitus Kovic. He charms, cons, coerces her into sneaking with him to smoke cigarettes even though she is forbidden because of her health issues. He brings with him a European style of speech and manners that captivates her.  A romance develops and Cora finds herself swooning and energized.

She observes and speculates about what the residents and staff are up to and who is stealing patients personal items from their rooms. Her only friend, a technician/nurse named Marcos tells her, “Senora Sledge, you have no shame, For this, I love you.” and tell’s her, “Devil! You are very naughty.” But agrees to smuggle her cigarettes and other forbidden items. His flaming gayness intrigues her and she asks him to explain his sexual preference in a way she can understand. She calls him a Mexican fruitcake he calls her a goddess, my queen. They watch Telemundos and sneak smokes in her bathroom. It’s a love of necessity, he adored and misses his mother, she misses her cigarettes.

Reviews of Breaking Out of Bedlam from the San Francisco Chronicle: “Larson is a master of details, coloring in her precise and increasingly jittery scene with tight specificity.”

Sandra Cisneros, author of House on Mango Street writes, “Larson is a writer of tales that are hilarious and heart breaking at once–no easy feat, but the mark of great storytelling.”

I workshopped with the Macondo Writers Workshop via Zoom last July and reunited with my Macondista famiy, the greatest group of writers in the U.S. It brought new energy and zest to my writing. Ooohwee!

In October I will be inducted into the Return of The Corn Mothers Celebration in Denver, Colorado at the Colorado History Center and hope you can attend if you are in the vicinity. I am humbled to be included and accept on behalf of my ancestors: Corn Mothers who went unrecognized for their work in all that is sacred and holy and unites the people with hope and love.