Thursday, August 22, 2013
Review: FALLEN LAND, by Patrick Flanery
Patrick Flanery totally won me over with his stunning debut in 2011, Absolution; that book told the story of the dark legacy of apartheid and the way it twisted the lives of two writers, one a child when apartheid collapsed and one a literary star already in her twilight years who come together some years later, to discover what they have both lost.
Loss and the remains of history figure prominently in his latest novel, Fallen Land. He has moved from South Africa to middle America this time to tell the story of three broken families tied through blood and money to a plot of land undergoing all the changes of America of the last 100 years. Louise's family has lived on Poplar Farm for several generations after having inherited it from its owner after he was killed. Developer Paul Krovik buys it from her after her husband dies and she can no longer afford to keep it. He builds McMansions which he tries to sell to the newly-rich, but the economy collapses along with the poorly-constructed houses, and he's left with nothing- not his family, who leave him, nor his own dream home, sold to a bohemian-bourgeois family from, of all places, Boston. Nathaniel and Julia Noailles are about as Yankee as they come- they even named their shy, introverted son Copley- and slowly the mean spirits of the place devour them. Paul, meanwhile, hides in a basement bunker, stalking and terrorizing the family in hopes that they will leave.
A fairy tale about the dark side of the American dream, Fallen Land is a feverish nightmare of suspense and horror. Nathaniel works for the Orwellian EKK security company, whose ambitions only begin with enslaving prisoners and monitoring private citizens without limitation while Julia is trying, literally and figuratively, to make a robot of their son. Both Paul and Nathaniel are survivors of deeply horrific childhood abuse which drives each man to some very dark places indeed. We know that a tragedy of some nature has occurred from the opening pages; the suspense comes from watching Paul and Nathaniel's slow, horrible slide to madness and death.
Though there were some aspects of the book I felt were a little overdone, Flanery offers some powerful social commentary alongside the narrative and overall I really enjoyed Fallen Land. It certainly kept me turning the pages! I'd love to see a film adaptation; I bet this story would work well on the screen. Flanery alternates the viewpoints so we see each character's distorted vision, the fun-house-mirror versions of others that each person sees and then the way each person thinks about him or herself, and that's some fascinating and well-wrought character work. I recommend it to readers of literary suspense and realistic horror, and anyone looking to keep themselves awake at night!
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.