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I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Falling Under by Danielle Younge-Ullman.
This is the kind of book that makes me feel lucky, because I get to read it first, and I get to tell you this is one you will not want to miss. People use the word ‘raw’ a lot to describe writing; usually I find it means there’s some swearing. But in this case, the writing is raw painful and wide open, an exposed nerve, something we aren’t supposed to see. You know how you might be afraid of bridges, or tunnels, or subway grates, or big dogs, or being alone? Imagine all of them, all at once, and being unable to control or predict what will torment you at any given time. That’s Mara.
Our narrator Mara is a fragile near-agoraphobic, barely hanging together long enough to sell her paint-by-numbers over the couch pieces which don’t reflect her considerable talent, but do pay rent. Her best friend can sometimes drag her out for an evening, and that’s when she meets Hugo, whom I have to refer to as “poor Hugo.” He’s a nice guy who thinks he’s just met a cute, quirky girl. He doesn’t know her pain and fear can’t be fixed with a romantic meal and a long walk on the beach. She’s the dreaded truly damaged date. To Mara’s credit, she’s quite upfront on her unsuitability, but when you’re smitten who believes that? As we watch Mara unspool in the present, we also get a look at her past. Danielle Younge-Ullman makes the unusual decision to write about Mara’s childhood in the second person: ‘you walk down the hall, you look out the window.’ Far from being a self indulgent trick, it feels like the world is directing the events in Mara’s life which are beyond her control. Things are just as bad in the past as they are in the present, and about to get a lot worse as the two stories slowly collide.
So, why am I raving about this book when the narrator is such a mess? Because Mara is self aware, not self absorbed. She’s funny, smart, and supremely talented. Like a high maintenance friend, she’s so worth sticking around for.
Danielle and I talked about whether the pain in Mara’s life is worth the art she puts on the wall. Danielle thinks it’s worth it, that Mara would never trade her talent for an orderly life. I have to wonder if suffering is part of the gift.