Book: Fall on Your Knees

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Book:

Fall on Your Knees

Author: Ann-Marie MacDonald
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Publisher: Vintage

At the start of the 20th century, James Piper sets fire to his dead mother’s piano and heads out across Cape Breton Island to find a new place to live, eventually eloping with 13-year-old Materia Mahmoud, the daughter of wealthy, traditional Lebanese parents. And so, from early on, Ann-Marie MacDonald establishes some major themes: racial tension, isolation, passion and forbidden love, which will gradually lead to incest, death in childbirth, and even murder. At the centre of this epic story is the nature of family love, beginning with the Piper sister who depend on one another for survival. Their development as characters—beautiful Kathleen, the promising diva; saintly Mercedes; Frances, the mischievous bad girl, who tries to bear the family’s burden; and disabled Lily, everyone’s favourite—forms the heart of the novel. And then there is James, their flawed father.

Moving from Cape Breton Island to the battlefields of World War I, to Harlem in New York’s Jazz Age and the Depression, the tense and enthralling plot of Fall on Your Knees contains love, pain, death, joy, and triumph. The structure of the narrative is multi-faceted, richly layered, and shifts back and forth through time as it approaches the story from different angles, “giving it a mythic quality that allows dark, half buried secrets to be gracefully and chillingly revealed” (The New York Times Book Review). As the details of the labyrinthine plot are pulled together, the question of whether it is possible to escape one’s family history gradually raises itself.

The book’s epigraph, taken from Wuthering Heights, seems appropriate to a novel concerned with the different, often violent, forms that love can take. On the inexorable journey towards tragedy we encounter dark yet vivid images of neglect and violence, yet the novel radiates an unquenchable life-force, and yet the novel radiates an unquenchable life-force, shimmering with emotional depth, sensual with virtuoso descriptions of the power of music. It is a saga haunted by ghosts and saints, religious fanaticism and magic. MacDonald gives the most ordinary lives extraordinarily dramatic dimensions.

The Sunday Times wrote, “It is the unpredictability of this huge book that is its greatest joy.” With allusions ranging from Hollywood stars to religious tracts, Fall on Your Knees simmers with vibrancy and crackling, effervescent, breathtaking language.

Reviews

Amazon.com

A sprawling saga about five generations of a family from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Fall on Your Knees is the impressive first fiction from Canadian playwright and actor Ann-Marie MacDonald. This epic tale of family history, family secrets, and music centers on four sisters and their relationships with each other and with their father. Set in the coal-mining communities of Nova Scotia in the early part of this century, the story also shifts to the battlefields of World War I and the jazz scene of New York City in the 1920s.

Barnes and Noble

Much-lauded Canadian actress and playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald—winner of several prestigious drama awards for her play Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)—turns her hand to fiction with this remarkable debut novel. The sweeping saga of a deeply troubled Nova Scotia family, Fall on Your Knees is an anguished yet wise and darkly humorous tale that weaves deftly back and forth in time to cover five generations of the Piper clan—from late-19th-century Nova Scotia to the battlefields of World War I to Manhattan’s vibrant 1920s music scene, and back to Nova Scotia. MacDonald gracefully tackles tragic events and disturbing secrets—rape, incest, death, disease, the stigma of out-of-wedlock pregnancy—that come to light as family members search for truth, understanding, and redemption.

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