Tuesday, December 27, 2011

All Fall Down

Megan Hart is one author I don't like to slap labels on.  I even hate to label her erotic novels as "erotic" - because frankly anyone who reads Megan Hart solely for "the sex" is missing the point (sorry, you are).  However, for the sake of discussing All Fall Down, her latest release, I'll go so far as to say it's "not a romance" and that it's Hart's "book club book."  Because that's what it is.  Highly readable general fiction that sucks you in with a ripped-from-the-headlines style plot and characters who feel like they could be real people.

Sunshine has spent her entire life growing up in a cult, the Family of Superior Bliss.  It's late at night, and the alarms are blaring again.  She thinks it's merely another drill - but her mother bundles her up, along with Sunshine's three small children, and ushers them off the compound.  Sunshine is confused, doesn't want to leave, and can't understand what her mother is doing.  However, she listens to her, takes a scrap of paper, and urges the girl to find her father.  Her biological father that Sunshine has never known.

Liesel Albright is Chris's second wife, and desperately wants a baby.  But month after month, her period arrives to mock her.  It's another month, another such morning, and then the door bell rings.  There stands Sunshine and her three children.  Chris had a daughter by his first wife, a woman who up and left him to join a cult 20 years ago.  Liesel may have wanted a family, but she's not quite prepared for inheriting one.  Sunshine might be 20 with three children of her own, but living her entire life sheltered in a cult means she is just as much a child herself.  While Chris retreats, it's up to Liesel to learn to cope, and Sunshine to find her way.  Which becomes increasingly hard for her when news that the cult committed mass-suicide hits the news.  Sunshine wasn't just forced out of the compound by her mother, she was left behind.

Hart's strength as a writer has never been, in my opinion, her plotting.  She's a very deliberate writer with very deliberately paced plots - which means none of her books are what I would call "page-turners" in the high-paced thriller sense of the expression.  This book is no different.  It unfolds slowly, page-by-page, sucking the reader in with the daily existence of the characters.  It's the kind of book that could go on forever and as the reader you wouldn't mind - because you get so invested in the characters that it's almost like reading a soap opera, but with no over-the-top behavior and bed-hopping shenanigans.

The first half of this book is mostly spent on Liesel - a woman who should be careful what she wishes for.  She admirably begins to pick up the pieces, but having four lost souls fall in your lap isn't exactly smooth sailing.  How she copes, what she learns about herself, and how it effects her marriage make for riveting reading.

The second half of the book is much more strongly focused on Sunshine, and how a girl who has spent her whole life living under the shadow of a cult can become acclimated to "the real world."  I'll admit that while I thought Liesel and Chris were interesting to read about, that I really felt this was Sunshine's story.  It reminded me a lot of one of my all time favorite books, Flowers For Algernon, also about a character going through a rapid ascent through adolescence and trying to live in a world he's not prepared for, nor understands.

As deliberately paced as the book is, and as much as I wanted it to just go on forever, it does have to end eventually.  In that respect, I found that after the slow unfolding of the story, that the ending does feel a bit rushed.  I also suspect that as general fiction, some genre readers might be less than enthralled.  However, it ends the way I think Hart has to end it.  And there is still a silver lining, albeit cute little puppies aren't exactly frolicking under a rainbow while gumdrops rain down.

The only real quibble I have is that the most interesting character is largely left unexplored, and that's Sunshine's mother.  I'm not entirely sure what the author could have done to remedy this though without entirely changing her story.  Unless flashbacks were employed, and that way is fraught with dozens of mine-fields.  I found myself fascinated by this woman, what made her marry Chris, and then leave him for a cult?  What was she looking for?  Why did she choose the way she chose?  And exactly how is she able to look on while her daughter has three babies by the time she's 20?  Sadly, those questions are never really answered, although the author does give us a few teasing glimpses.

This isn't what I consider a sexy book.  It's not easy to categorize, it's not filled with car chases, wall-to-wall sex, battle scenes, or a nail-biting cliffhanger.  It's a story about people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and how they learn to cope with each other, care for each other, and live their "new lives."  It's a lovely piece of work by an author whose work I tend to enjoy immensely, and it's the kind of book that sticks with me long after I've finished it.  No, it's not a romance - but I was perfectly fine with that.

Final Grade = B+


Marg said...

When I first saw the synopsis for this book I wondered if there were two people using the same name because this seems like such a different book to the ones that she normally puts out.

Marguerite Kaye said...

I read Flowers for Algernon in Secondary (High) school and it's one of thos books that stays right with you. I still cry when I hear 'Ben' - the only Michael Jackson song I like. This is not the sort of book I'd have bought, but your review has made me want to read it. Thank you Wendy, I most likely will now.

Wendy said...

Marg: I think Hart is going to be one of those writers where it's helpful to pay attention to the publisher. This is her second book for Mira, and the second one for that imprint that is "not a romance."

Marguerite: It's very good and I admire what the author does with the story/characters. Not a book for everybody, and like I said - I wouldn't consider this a "happy ending" in the romance sense of the word, but it does end on an "up note" - which generally is what I like anyway when swimming outside the romance genre waters.