Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Fall Back Down When I Die

Fall Back Down When I Die by Joe Wilkins
Little, Brown and Company: 3/12/19
eBook review copy; 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316475358

Fall Back Down When I Die by Joe Wilkins is a highly recommended politically laden drama set in Montana.

Wendell Newman, 24, is a ranch hand in Eastern Montana who is seriously in debt after his mother's death. He owes back taxes on the land he inherited and is paying off his mother's medical bills. When a social worker shows up, Wendell learns he is the only relative of seven-year-old Rowdy Burns, who is the son of Wendell's incarcerated cousin. Rowdy, who is mute and likely on the autism spectrum, moves in with Wendell and the two form a strong bond.

There is trouble brewing in Montana, between the cowboys and ranchers of the old West and the environmentalists, with the first legal wolf hunt, and increasing regulations being enforced on BLM land, and increasing state involvement with the rural families. As much as Wendell wants to stay out of it, he is a part of it simply because his father, Verl, took a stand years earlier and killed a man. Then Verl went into hiding and on the run, leaving his family behind.

The story unfolds between the point-of-view of three characters and chapters alternate between the voices of Verl, Wendell, and Gillian. The novel opens with the first person account of Verl, on the run and evading the law in the Big Dry mountains. His chapters consist of what he is writing to his son in one of Wendell's notebooks that he grabbed when leaving. Wendell and Gillian's narratives are told in third person accounts. Gillian is an assistant principal and counselor, who wants to help but also allows her own judgmental opinions of "rural stupidity" to color her actions. It was her husband, Kevin, that Verl killed years earlier. At the end of the novel two other voices are heard from.

The writing is beautifully descriptive and poetic as it carefully and skillfully captures the setting and the characters. The characters are all well developed and precisely depicted as individuals with their own beliefs and feelings. The novel is slow-paced at the beginning, taking time to describe the land and people as the story leads, inevitably to the haunting and heart-breaking climax.

All the characters are survivors and suffering from emotional damaged in some way. Wendell and Rowdy are wonderful characters and immediately captured my heart. Gillian, I must admit, caused conflicting emotions. She annoyed me since she just seemed to be so opinionated and judgemental about the people she was supposed to be helping, but I alternately had compassion for her and her own struggles.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Little, Brown and Company.

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