I don’t know why I avoided reading this book for so long. I think it’s because Ann-Marie MacDonald is technically ‘from away'. I’ve read that some Newfoundlanders don’t care for The Shipping News and the people of Ironbound practically revolted over Rockbound, both written by outsiders. But there was no need for me to feel that she would do the island a disservice. MacDonald writes lovingly but honestly of the island of Cape Breton and it's turbulent history. She also has the vernacular down. Her use of ‘b’y’ and her "Who’s your father?" are dead on.
When Oprah picked this as a book club read, she said that Cape Breton was ‘an exotic island’ and I nearly laughed my head off. Exotic doesn’t spring into my mind. MacDonald did indeed make the island a mystical and magical place. Just as the moors are just right for the Brontes’ tales, Cape Breton becomes a gothic setting for this story of a family haunted by secret longings and sins. Like Wuthering Heights, Fall On Your Knees has a similar tone. It is surreal, like a Grimm’s Fairy Tale.
The story begins at the beginning of the 20th century, James Piper takes a child bride, a wealthy Lebanese girl, Materia. He soon comes to regret this hasty decision as he has nothing in common with the girl. Materia regrets being outcast from her family and becomes depressed. They do manage to have three daughters: Kathleen, Mercedes and Frances. James throws his energies into making Kathleen an opera singer. His pride is his downfall. There is not much more I can say without giving away a lot of the story. What I can say is that by the end of the book, I had changed my opinion of every one of the Pipers a dozen times.
The book is full of lyrical passages like this:
"The night is bright with the moon. Look down over Water Street. On the lonely stretch between where the houses end and where the sea bites the land, a tree casts a network of shadow that stirs and bloats in one spot, as though putting forth dark fruit that droops, then drops from the bough."
MacDonald switches point-of-view often, at one point changes into the present tense, which was perfect for the urgency in the scene. She also uses letters and diaries to tell the story of the people no longer present. Food, music and religion play major roles in the plot.
At times, I thought I was going to lose my mind, the story takes bizarre turns (Frances) but at the end I felt like I had an answer to some of the insanity. Although the story is dark, I didn’t feel that it was depressing. There is an undercurrent of Hope and Forgiveness. The ending gave me chills and called to mind the end of Wuthering Heights. MacDonald must be a fan of the Brontes; Jane Eyre is mentioned often.
Although probably not for everyone, I think this book will become a favorite for me. I'd read it again for the writing. I also have theories about the end, maybe I'd find more clues with a reread.
Also Reviewed By: Wendy @ Caribousmom