You might cross this road and walk a few steps to the edge of the cliff. Down below is the jagged water. All day it chatters back and forth across the gravel beach, unless the weather’s rough. Farther out it’s mauve like a pair of cold lips; closer in it’s copper green, gun gray, seducing seaweed to dance the seven veils despite the chill, chained to their rocks by the hair. And there on the cliff you might sit with your legs dangling even on a flinty winter day, and feel soothed by the salt wind. – From Fall On Your Knees, page 27-
Ann-Marie MacDonalds multigenerational family saga Fall On Your Knees captures the reader from the start with a finely tuned sense of place and characters who fill the page. The story begins with James Piper, a native of Cape Breton Island, and Materia, his tragic Lebanese child-bride. One by one, children are born to the Pipers – each with distinct and compelling personalities. MacDonald takes her time, gradually revealing the dark shadows beneath the surface of this family.
Some of my favorite parts of the novel consisted of the careful construction of character and the beautiful and horrible imagery.
A war changes people in a number of ways. It either shortcuts you to your very self; or it triggers such variations that you might as well have been a larva, pupating in dampness, darkness and tightly wrapped puttees. Then, providing you don’t take flight from a burst shell, you emerge from your khaki cocoon so changed from what you were that you fear you’ve gone mad, because people at home treat you as though you were someone else. Someone, who, through a bizarre coincidence, had the same name, address and blood ties as you, but who must have died in the war. -From Fall On Your Knees, page 112-
This book is full of tragedy, and yet MacDonald tempers it with a sardonic humor and accessible prose that compels the reader to keep turning the pages. My favorite character is Frances – the imaginative second child of the Pipers who has a biting wit and a gift for words.
You might think Frances would be a slob, but she isn’t, she’s very neat and organized. She has accommodated Lily with a framed magazine photograph of Mary Pickford in a stupid gingham apron. It hangs next to Lily’s color print of Jesus with the lambs. Jesus looks sad, of course, “because he’s thinking about how much he likes lamb chops,” says Frances, but Lily is not fooled by that . The rest of the walls are covered in Frances’ collection. She writes away for publicity photos. There is one of Lillian Gish trapped on an ice floe. There is Houdini naked and furious in a milk can. There is an actual poster that an usher at the Empire gave her of Theda Bara in Sin, holding her unbelievably long tresses at arm’s length above her head like a madwoman. Frances calls her Head of Haira. Mercedes thinks the picture is immoral. -From Fall On Your Knees, page 192-
Fall On Your Knees is a magnificent, sprawling novel of family secrets, religious obsession, and survival. It resonates with unforgettable characters.