Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fall On Your Knees - Ann-Marie MacDonald (Canadian Book Challenge)


This is my 5th book for The Canadian Book Challenge. Wow, 5 provinces! The journey has been enjoyable, until now.

I've been known to say that I've "devoured a book," meaning that I read it quickly and enjoyed it immensely. Sometimes, though, it feels like the book has devoured me: I read it quickly and it was an intense experience but I didn't really enjoy the book.
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This has happened twice to me in recent years: Wuthering Heights back in 2005, and now, my most recent read, Fall On Your Knees. It's interesting that Fall On Your Knees opens with a quote from Wuthering Heights. A chilling choice for a quote, too, considering James Piper's twisted relationship with his wife and daughters.

This was an Oprah pick back in 2002, and it's easy to see why: Women as victims, but trying to survive and comfort themselves with whatever is at hand while living in fear. Evil man taking every opportunity to destroy their happiness and/or them. Sisterhood rising from the ashes with a faint breath of hope that everything can be put right.

I admire Ann-Marie MacDonald's storytelling skills. She really captured the sense of time and place -- Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in the early years of the 20th century. The bleak beauty and isolation of the setting also brought to mind Wuthering Heights.

So many questions were raised in my mind that I was compelled to keep turning the pages. But there's so much going on in the novel --death, murder, incest, illegitimacy, multiculturalism, lesbianism, religion -- that it feels jumbled. Some parts go on too long, like Frances in her Girl Guides uniform, being dirty in both senses of the word. Frances' motivation for pursuing Ginger could have been explained a little more clearly. Lily's journey to New York seems muddled as well. I did figure fairly early out what led to Kathleen's ruin and demise, but not the identity of her lover in New York. The diary portion of the novel seems to go on overly long. By that time, Kathleen had been out of the novel for a long time.
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In addition, there were some anachronisms that were distracting, like a reference to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by one of the little Piper girls. I'm also slightly prejudiced because my Least Favorite Poem Of All Time, "Don't Whine" has been reprinted in this novel. Finally, I felt horror and pity for the Piper women's situation, but none of them were particularly likable, so this feeling was at a slight remove and unfortunately touched with irritation and an increasing coolness as the novel progressed.

If a novel takes the reader on a journey, this was like being abducted out of a deep sleep, taken out in the dark and pushed down a flight of steep stairs. I won't say that I'll never read an Ann-Marie MacDonald novel ever again, but it's going to be a while.

12 comments:

Aaron Kropf said...

I feel your pain. I really didn't like Wuthering Heights either. I've never read anything by MacDonald but it sounds like typical East Coast Lit. It's often bleak because that's the land they are living on.

Tara said...

Love this line.

"The journey has been enjoyable, until now."

I agree with much of what you wrote. Very good writer, very depressing, sordid material.

I did read her book The Way the Crow Flies and enjoyed it quite a bit, though there were parts I wasn't crazy about. So don't count her out completely.

William Wren said...

great blog great to find

raidergirl3 said...

good review, and it was very much an Oprah book. I read a few like that at the time - twisted lives, depressing, so it all blends together. It had almost an Irving feel with all the stuff going on, and some of it very weird.

on to the next book...

Literary Feline said...

I very much enjoyed reading your review of this one. I've heard it is quite dark. I read The Way the Crow Flies last year and loved it. The author pulled me in and I held on tight until the very end. I do plan to read this one, but I am not quite expecting as much from her as I got before.

Bybee said...

Aaron,
I wonder if there's an equivalent US state that produces bleak literature? The only thing coming to mind is Mississippi: Faulkner.

Tara,
I am willing to try The Way The Crow Flies. I heard it's based on a true story.

William,
Thank you.

raidergirl3,
Yeah, I got an Irving feel after Kathleen's 2 babies were born. Lots of chaos, like in Garp, when he's driving home and Helen and that guy are in the driveway...

Literary Feline,
I'm glad to see a second on "Crow". I hate being put off MacDonald because she really does know how to tell a story.

Chris said...

I'm a Cape Bretoner and I don't feel bleak. In fact, I hate how writers often portray us as bleak, like we never crack a smile. I have a pretty sunny outlook, most of the time. I think the problem is that to be 'literary' in this country one must have miserable things happen to the characters.

Dark Orpheus said...

You didn't enjoy it? Ah, I read it many years agon on a trip in Australia. I actually liked it a lot.

But then again, I read it as a gothic tale, so maybe that's why.

kookiejar said...

Bybee, I love you so much. I love the reviews you do of books you love, but I think an evil corner of my brain loves these types of reviews even more. :D

Bybee said...

Chris,
I would never think of you as bleak!

Bybee said...

Dark Orpheus,
Maybe that's what I should've done. And I should've gotten to it before Oprah did. After all, there were six long years it wasn't an Oprah pick.

Kookiejar,
Well, you know the love is mutual.

I hated to slag on this book, but I couldn't help it.

Thomas Quinn said...

I just finished Fall on Your Knees for an English MA class and everything you said rings true. If anything, you were too kind in your review.