GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe
- Title: If I Fall, If I Die
- Author: Michael Christie
- ISBN: 0804140804 (ISBN13: 9780804140805)
- Series: Stand Alone
- Published: January 20th 2015 by Hogarth (first published January 13th 2015)
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Genre/s: Fiction/Mystery
- Print Length: 288 pages
From Goodreads – Will has never been to the outside, at least not since he can remember. And he has certainly never gotten to know anyone other than his mother, a fiercely loving yet wildly eccentric agoraphobe who drowns in panic at the thought of opening the front door. Their little world comprises only the rooms in their home, each named for various exotic locales and filled with Will’s art projects. Soon the confines of his world close in on Will. Despite his mother’s protestations, Will ventures outside clad in a protective helmet and braces himself for danger. He eventually meets and befriends Jonah, a quiet boy who introduces Will to skateboarding. Will welcomes his new world with enthusiasm, his fears fading and his body hardening with each new bump, scrape, and fall. But life quickly gets complicated. When a local boy goes missing, Will and Jonah want to uncover what happened. They embark on an extraordinary adventure that pulls Will far from the confines of his closed-off world and into the throes of early adulthood and the dangers that everyday life offers. If I Fall, if I Die is a remarkable debut full of dazzling prose, unforgettable characters, and a poignant and heartfelt depiction of coming of age.
Nineteenth century American poet Emily Dickinson wrote:
Doom is the House without the Door –
T’is entered from the Sun –
And then the Ladder’s thrown away,
Because Escape – is done –
In his debut novel to be published in 2015, If I Fall, If I Die, author Michael Christie references this poem to describe the mindset of Diane Cardiel, a single mother who lives with her young son Will. Once a promising filmmaker, she is now completely controlled by paranoia, depression and agoraphobia, a reaction to multiple tragic events earlier in her life. Her world is reduced to what Will calls “the Inside”, a creation designed to keep them both safe. She has named the different rooms of her house after famous cities – London, Cairo, Venice – so that they can experience the world without its risk. She is so fearful of danger that the only kitchen appliances she owns are a slow-cooker and a bread maker because they have the least chance of scalding and the food they create is so soft that choking is almost impossible. Will wears a helmet all day. He calls her depression the Black Lagoon.
But as he grows, Will also experiences the curiosity of regular boys, and when he hears a strange sound from “the Outside”, he ventures from his enforced fortress for the first time. And he doesn’t die. He explores, he meets other boys, discovers skateboarding, and eventually decides he wants to go to school. It is with tragic innocence that he makes his discoveries, learns how to socialize, learns that there is pettiness, violence and racism all around. Will gets hurt, he gets embarrassed. But he doesn’t die.
If I Fall, If I Die is permeated with beautiful, vivid language. Author Christie’s descriptions of Diane’s panic attacks and mental frailty are supremely creative. The evolving relationship between Diane and Will, especially when Will leaves home with more frequency, is fascinating. The novel is engaging.
And then, all of a sudden, it isn’t. If I Fall, If I Die virtually transforms from a work of literature to an adolescent mystery reminiscent of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. The writing style becomes more juvenile, following the new plot line of Will and his friend Jonah as skateboard-riding detectives searching for a missing friend while trying to escape the clutches of underworld criminals. It is a completely unexpected and disappointing shift, almost as if the book’s original editor had quit halfway through and the replacement had a totally different idea how to proceed. The inconsistency makes staying engaged impossible.
Nearing the end of the novel, there is a description of Diane’s first panic attack that took place on a subway platform many years earlier and opened the floodgates to her phobias. The language and sentence structure are brilliant, the rhythm of the narration speeding up as her panic increases. It is a bittersweet chapter. It illustrates how good If I Fall, If I Die could have been.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MICHAEL CHRISTIE’s debut book of fiction, The Beggar’s Garden, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a finalist for the Writers’ Trust Prize for Fiction, and won the Vancouver Book Award. Prior to earning an MFA from the University of British Columbia, he was a sponsored skateboarder and travelled throughout the world skateboarding and writing for skateboard magazines. Born in Thunder Bay, he now lives on Galiano Island with his wife and two sons. If I Fall, If I Die is his first novel.
In his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom. His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side. After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia, Circumstance led to a career back in Toronto. He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.