Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fall on Your Knees--a book review


“All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

One of the books on my Chunkster and TBR list was Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. I bought this book on one of my trips to Canada. I’m sure of this because the book is a Canadian edition. As I mentioned in the latest Booking Through Thursday, I like to pick up books as I travel. Unfortunately, I always pick up more books than I can actually read and there is something intimidating about a book that runs to 566 pages. Even if it is a novel.
Fall takes place in a part of Canada that I have never visited, Cape Breton Island. It sounds like a place that I would like to visit although growing up in the early 20th Century does not sound so appealing. It is one of those books reviewers call “sweeping” and “epic.” It is also relentlessly tragic, reminiscent in this sense of a Russian novel. The first words of the novel are: “They’re all dead now.”
Reading this book made me wonder, do novels have to be depressing to be candidates for greatness? Certainly Tolstoy would have thought so. But at times during this book, I would wait for the next shoe to fall, dreading it all the while. Who would die next, what new misery would next befall this family.
Fall is also fascinating. It is the story of three generations of the Piper family, beginning with the forced marriage between James Piper and his thirteen year old Lebanese girlfriend. In one novel, there is all thrown together poverty, race relations, mental illness, illegitimacy, infanticide and more. There is an amazing cast of characters thrown in as well. In how many novels, would you run into a Lebanese woman, married to a Scottish-Irish man, cooking chicken soup with Matza balls? I have always thought that Canada’s melting pot atmosphere is an interesting reflection on that of the United States. It feels to me as if Canada is one or two generations less “melted” than here and this book seems to reflect that cultural diversity.
MacDonald is a wonderful observer of humanity. Here is one woman pondering whether she dare tell her brother some of the secrets held by the Piper family. “Besides, there are some things that are right to tell a woman friend, but otherwise indecent to repeat. Some things, when discussed with a dear husband or brother, are only poison. Good women discuss these things the way epidemiologists identify and track disease without alarming the public. This is woman’s work. Men are unfitted for it by nature and should be protected from it the way women shouldn’t have to go down the mines. Men are so innocent.”
In fact, there is not much innocence in Fall on Your Knees but there is enough beauty to keep me reading to the end. I thought this was a good book, not necessarily a great book, but accomplished. I finished reading it a month ago so I am having trouble putting my finger on my dissatisfaction. Read it yourself and tell me what you think.


paula said...

great photo...if I were in to novels that would intrigue me.
i tried to read this novel:shantaram by gregory david roberts...have you heard about it?
thought of you when I picked it up...a mere 900 pages.

Bookfool said...

Great review. I plan to get to the book, eventually, but probably not for a while.

Wendy said...

I read this book just recently and liked it quite a bit. Here is a link to my review if you are interested:

A dark and tragic story, but I think MacDonald's skill of characterization is what made this such a good read.

Unknown said...

Self taught--thanks. I haven't read Shantaram. Not even sure if I've seen it around.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I can relate to your feelings about this book. I read it years ago, but i seem to remember that the beauty of it didn't make up for the depression.