Saturday, February 7, 2015

If I Fall, If I Die

Title:  If I Fall, If I Die
Author:  Michael Christie
Publication Information:  Hogarth. 2015. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0804140804 / 978-0804140805

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through Edelweiss free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Blogging for Books.

Opening Sentence:  "The boy stepped Outside, and he did not die."

Favorite Quote:  "What was the difference between making something and making it come apart? Painting a masterpiece was also destroying a canvas, sculpting was wrecking a good rock, drawing dulling a good pencil forever."

If I Fall, If I Die, the debut novel by Michael Christie, is part coming of age story and part action adventure story. Will is a young boy who does not go outside. His entire world consists of his mother and their home, with room named for major cities of the world.

Will's mother Diane suffers from agoraphobia. The Mayo Clinic defines agoraphobia as "a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed." The situation may be actual, or the fear may stem from the anticipation of a situation. Diane's fear is so extreme that she does not ever leave her home. She home schools Will and orders all the necessities of life online. Will accepts the deliveries.

Diane's fears extend even to things within the house. For example, simply to change a light bulb, Will wears a rubber wet suit. All their food is cooked in a slow cooker so that nothing has the texture that may cause choking. Diane describes her fears in these words, "She'd succumbed to this law only after years of struggle and had been obeying it dutifully ever since. Because when something not only can't be beaten but can't even be fought without strengthening it, when something is so absolute and baseless and mechanical, like death, it can only be avoided, feared, ignored, sunk, buried, deliberately erased."

Even through the fear, Diane's love for her son is clear. In her limited confines, she creates an entire world for him. Room to room, they travel from city to city - Paris, London, and beyond. She encourages Will's creativity, allowing him to paint masterpieces on the walls.

The background is set, and you can see the direction the story will go, even though it seems to be a slow process getting there. Will, through his curiosity, is drawn outside or Outside. The conflict between Diane's fears and Will's curiosity develops. Diane herself is conflicted between wanting Will to stay Inside and safe and understanding his need to go beyond. Will's forays into the Outside start with bumbling through in a world he's never seen and encountering other kids who find him strange. Then, Will finds a passion and friends, which taken him even further from his controlled home environment.

Along the way, the story shows glimpses of Diane's past and what may have led to her fears getting worse and worse. An accident, a death, and the loss of a loved one are all experiences Diane survived in her past.

So far, so good although a little slow. The story has been set up - the difference between mother and son, the conflict between wanting to protect and wanting to explore, and the gap between fear and courage. Then, somewhere along the way, the story veers completely in another direction. From a coming of age story, it transforms into a action adventure mystery. A boy - Will's friend - disappears. Diane's past comes rushing into the present. Illegal activities enter the picture. Will goes from being a recluse to chasing down criminals.

As a result, by the end, neither the coming of age story nor the mystery satisfies. Standing alone, the story of Will's going Outside beyond his mother's fears could have developed into a strong, emotional story. Unfortunately, combined with what comes after, it seems an incomplete thought.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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