Book Review: If I Fall, If I Die

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If I Fall, If I Die, is a book you will simply surrender yourself over to — surrender to its superb writing and to the tragic, sad and heartachingly rendered, yet extremely compelling  characters of Will and his mother Diane.

If I Fall, If I Die has been described as a coming-of-age tale and this coming-of-age is told from the perspective of an 11-year-old son of a mother suffering from mental illness, from severe agoraphobia. Diane has returned with Will to her childhood home in Thunder Bay, Ontario, by way of Toronto, where she was a celebrated filmmaker. Her mental instability slowly increases in intensity. showing itself first beginning with a fear of driving, snowballing into a fear of being driven in a cab, on public transportation and then into full blown agoraphobia. She never leaves the house, does not allow her son Will to either. Everything they need to survive can be delivered, with Will expertly signing his mother’s name to the wide number of cheques for the delivery men. Diane is becoming increasingly dependent upon her “Relaxation Sessions”, unable to leave even her room on many days, leaving Will to figure out life from an 11-year-old perspective.

In their seclusion, they have given city names to their living spaces, such as San Francisco, Paris, Toronto, New York, etc. In the beginning this may be read with a touch of confusion, but this is how Diane has given some of the outside world to Will. Nothing is safe, everything can cause harm and everything is delivered to their home, food is cooked until mushy in the slow cooker and Will has taken to wearing a helmet from dawn to dusk.

One day, Will ventured outside for a full 9 minutes and in his experience now smelled Outside, tasted it, felt it and longs for more. On his first venture Outside, Will meets a boy that scoffs as his thinking the Outside is the only place filled with danger. Intrigued by this boy, Will begins to venture out more and more each day and is determined to find this boy again. Unable to find him, he instead meets Jonah. Marcus, the first boy Will encountered has gone missing and together Will and Jonah establish a close-knit friendship and one that includes trying to uncover what happened to their missing friend.

Each chapter alternates between the stories of Will and Diane. Diane’s story is one that is filled with sadness and tragedy.  We are taken on this journey into her past and to how she became the woman she is today. A film maker in Toronto, she has now returned to hide in Thunder Bay with Will. Slowly revealed are the (tragic) deaths of her parents, and the change in her brother following these deaths and to his unfortunate death as well:

“How foolish she’d been to think he would stand as the exception to the Cardiel’s tragic legacy – that he’d escape their oversized helping of accident and woe.” (Diane thinking of her twin brother Charlie)

“Because the truth was that every second of his life was lethally dangerous. Especially in Thunder Bay. Especially for the Cardiels. Especially for Will. And to anyone who would disagree, her only defense would be: What is raising a child except lying? It begins with the first shhhh… everything is going to be … and only gets worse from there.” (On why Diane is so overly protective of Will.)

Will, always waiting for his mother to lose herself in her “relaxation sessions”, increases more of his time Outside and convinces his mother he should even be enrolled in school. Here, Will discovers that sometimes, being on the Inside may not be such a bad thing after all. On the one hand he is learning so much from Jonah – skateboarding, going on their big investigative missions – but sometimes the people he meets in this outside world and the situations he finds himself in while trying to find Marcus, make him long for the security of his inside life.

Thank you very much to Crown Publishing and Netgalley for allowing us the pleasure of reading Michael Christie’s If I Fall, If I Die. It’s one I quickly turned myself over to and just fully lived for awhile in the world of Diane and Will. I simply savoured and drank in the wonderful writing of Michael Christie. His writing is filled with incredibly beautiful prose, and the images, the flow, the beauty it contains, is written in such a way that you want to crawl inside this book and stay there forever. You will also want to wrap your arms around Will and Diane and make everything alright and safe for them. Amazing read. Karen Russell (author of Swamplandia)  was quoted as saying If I Fall, If I Die is:  “So beautifully told, you’ll want to pass it on immediately”. I cannot agree more.

Perhaps there may be some comparison to Room by Emma Donoghue? I haven’t read Room, and I don’t think I will at this time. I do not want to ruin this experience Christie has given. I do not want Christie’s way with words to diminish from my mind, or lose their shine in any way. I feel this way because I wholly expect Room would be unmatched and I am not willing to take the chance to find out.

Tears are salty water, he thought as his skateboard roared over the sidewalk beneath him like an entire pack of wolves growling at once. Like sweat. And who ever heard of a person sweating too much. It was good for you. Natural. Maybe people were born with a finite amount of tears inside them, and all a person had to do was let them all fall, and then they’d be free.” (words by Will.)

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