Book Twenty-Three: In the Fall

I had a tough time getting into this book, at first, which might be attributed to circumstances more than the book itself. At any rate, I read the first few pages twice over before they sank in and I could move on to take in the rest of it, and that’s rare for me. This usually happens to me when I feel distanced from a book, and the sense of not really being involved in the book persisted, rather than wearing away, as it typically does, eventually.

This is a book about family history and guilt. Suffering and a bit of pointless cruelty, with gratuitous stiffly written sex scenes sprinkled in. It certainly made me tired of reading the words “wetness” and “her wet.” I’m not really sure what I think about it, just yet. Perhaps I’ll read it again and have more to say. Perhaps not.

I tend to have difficulties with historical fiction set in the Civil War period. There seems to be a lot of guilt bound up in it, like the authors are somehow trying to atone for guilt over something by processing Civil War-related white guilt. And in addition to Civil War guilt, this book also had family guilt. Something about the choice of setting and all this guilt kind of distanced me from it, making it hard for me to invest in the characters or even to be that interested in the plot.

This book got a lot of critical acclaim when it came out, with comparisons to Faulkner and McCarthy. I’m not sure that these comparisons are quite fair. The book was decent, but it didn’t floor me in the way that McCarthy does. Lent is being called “one of America’s greatest living novelists,” and I just don’t see it. But perhaps he just rubs me the wrong way. I should probably read something else by him before I just dismiss him altogether.

It’s hard to put my finger on my problems with this book. It’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s just that I wasn’t very impressed with it. It didn’t leave me with food for thought, but rather I felt like I was missing something. I often feel a sense of guilt when people with good taste recommend books to me, and when critics rave over them, and I just don’t get them. There must be something in this book to get that I’m just missing, and maybe it’s because I’m removed and abstracted from the history in it that I’m having trouble.

The Civil War and Depression eras are too close to be romanticized in modern fiction for me, maybe. I like books by people who were alive in those periods and writing about them, but I have a tough time with historical fiction set in this era in general. I didn’t much fancy Cold Mountain, either, and I know people went wild over it.  Maybe I don’t feel enough white guilt to be titillated by stories of the terrible things that happened during the era of slavery in America. Maybe I don’t feel enough family guilt to be struck by other sad families.

Maybe I’ll read it again in 10 years and see something I’m not seeing now which will illuminate the book in an entirely new way?


In the Fall, by Jeffrey Lent. Published 2000, 542 pages. Fiction.