I don’t know what it is between me and books about strange families. Whenever I hear that a novel that I’m going to be reading has an unusual family structure, I’m chomping at the bit to read it. It may be simply that the world is a messy place and a family that has an unusual shape seems more real to me than the nuclear family that I had shoved down my throat when I was a kid. Or it might just be that there’s a mystery to unusual families that isn’t there with conventional ones. There’s a need to figure out how the different pieces of the family fit together to form a family unit which adds a depth to the proceedings that comes naturally.
Enter stage right: Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald.
Fall On Your Knees has the reader following the exploits of the Piper family starting with the Patriarch, James, who falls in love with a thirteen year old Lebanese girl named Materia. They are married and are eventually joined by four children: Kathleen, Mercedes, Frances, and Lily. The Pipers are a strange type of family with subtle hints that are meant to evoke curiosity in the readers. Aside from James and Materia not getting along, all is well in James’ world, but there are shadows gathering around the edges of the screen and you know that the idyllic scene that has been set cannot last forever.
MacDonald has a wonderful way of describing the scenes in her book, to the point where it can feel like you’re watching a movie rather than reading a book. While some books would suffer for that comparison, Fall on Your Knees only becomes stronger through it with its core cast of strong and distinct female characters juxtaposed with the weakness of the people around them.
The Piper house is brimming with secrets, large and small, and the real wonder is if the family will be able to survive those secrets or if everything will come crashing down at the most inopportune moment. Each of the daughters, in particular, has their own fleshed out character and arc with the reader getting the unique privilege of watching them grow up to feel their way through a broken world. It is a world that’s changing almost too fast for the Pipers to wrap their heads around it. Technology is expanding, cities are springing up to replace the small towns, and the world is marching its way straight into the bloodiest war that it’s ever seen.
The family can band together, damning themselves to their house of secrets or they can begin to fray, pulling apart at the seams until they’re able to scatter and save themselves. The choice is theirs, but it can be hard to see it when you live so close to the problem.
When it comes to Canadian literature, Fall on Your Knees is the book that I have recommended the most. It was the book that touched me the most and I’m so grateful that I was given it to read in university. It taps into what feels like a uniquely Canadian brand of weirdness even if I’m not sure how true that is. What is true is that reading this book feels both like a roller coaster and a punch to the gut.
Superbly paced, you’ll feel like you’re running toward the end of a mystery without ever needing to take another breath. The writing can suck you in so quickly that it’s almost dizzying and at the same time, each of the characters have their own spark of life to them that sells the story. As a reader, I would cycle between love and hate constantly, unsure of how it could be possible for me to change my mind so quickly with characters I thought I had carved into stone.
If you are able to handle some darkness in the search of light and you aren’t going to be chased away by the ugliness that lingers in the forgotten corners of a house, then I can’t recommend Fall on Your Knees enough.