This book — FALL BACK DOWN WHEN I DIE by Joe Wilkins… What a masterful blend of character-driven, literary fiction (with poetic, melt-in-your-mouth sentences). Combined with the intense pacing of more commercial fiction, this is a book you don’t want to set down.
This novel was remarkable in several ways, and my first thought was that American journalists should read this fiction and take note. Why? Because this writing exemplifies perfect balance (Back in the day, when I studied journalism, we were taught that our journalistic stories were to be unbiased and cover both sides of a story). Well, Joe Wilkins achieves what most journalists simply can’t today. He presents two sides of a difficult story with empathetic eyes and incredible skill – fiction, yes, but rooted in reality.
If you had told me I would ever feel empathy toward law-breakers, or wolf hunters, I would have laughed in your face. Or more likely, I’d have pounced, citing any manner of ecological study I’d read about the importance of wolves, maintaining balance, respecting the earth. And yet, in one character in particular, there was dastardliness, but also compassion and humanity. Few authors can pull this off – the ability to characterize so well that even the seemingly least-human are made human. I cannot say enough.
FALL BACK DOWN WHEN I DIE spoke to me for multiple reasons: 1) my pro-wolf stance, 2) the poetic language, and 3) the fact that despite living in Arizona – versus Montana where the book takes place – the same divides over ranching, conservation, and government exist in my state. (I’ve been to conservation meetings where angry ranchers far outnumbered tree huggers). My county experiences the same inabilities to see one another’s perspectives.
I confess that I related most to Gillian (minus the hunting), but I appreciated the way the author handled even that – with grace and honesty. If you love landscape descriptions and appreciate getting into the heads of your characters for an emotional ride, this book simply will not disappoint. At its heart, this is a story of love: for family, for land, for a way of life, for wilderness. And a story that questions entitlement and honor.
Just one question, though: Why did this book not get the publicity it deserved? So disappointing when this happens to uber-talented authors. Wilkins has written poetry as well, which I plan to check out! A few samples of the writing:
The land itself animated sorrow and anger, birthed and cradled and raised up failure and fear, a raw and righteous violence.
The clouds blackened and lifted and thinned to nothing. Then the nail holes of stars, the brittle, copper-smelling cold, the dark, hard wind.
Tavin couldn’t hear much of anything save the whir of his own breath. Like bees in me, he thought. Wasps.
Check out more book reviews by Melissa Crytzer Fry.