Monday, December 17, 2007

Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald

I like to get book recommendations from students and I'll usually follow through on reading them, but occasionally I take a little too long and the student book-proselytizer (semi-wild guess on the spelling there) will press a copy into my hands. That's how I ended up with this very well-written novel that is most aptly described by the pull-quote from the Chicago Tribune that's on the front cover: "...reads as if John Irving met Joyce Carol Oates in her Gothic period...." I've been known to complain about the lack of a female John Irving, who would write big books about Capital C female Characters (I'm far too short-winded to be that writer myself), and so I'm excited to see there is one (at least with one book).

One of the persistent threads of this novel is the miscommunication between characters including distant and near relations, but what MacDonald does is make those moments of miscommunication very specific--we witness moment after moment where we recognize immediately that the character is misreading with great certainty what another character is communicating. And she doesn't do this at all subtlely, but to tragic end time and again...which makes the book feel very high stakes (and gothic), and for such a fat book, very exciting. What's particularly rewarding though is that with possibly only one exception you believe the miscommunications because they are grounded in childhood mistakes that were never corrected due to a dead mother and a neglectful father. Because we've traced these characters for years we understand and even sympathize with exactly how they grow up to be quite so foolish. Big and bold and yet it works.

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