Monday, June 11, 2018

Book Review: Dreams of Falling

By Jami Deise

Although I’ve been reading a lot of thrillers lately, I will always have a soft spot for a certain type of historical fiction – the novel that mixes past and present, with a present-day heroine trying to figure out what exactly happened in the past, while that past unfolds for the reader through the eyes of the past-day heroine. Books such as Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours or Jojo Moyes’s The Girl You Left Behind are great examples of this genre, but even the best books tend to fall into a specific trap: The present-day heroine pales in comparison to the past-day protagonist because there is hardly anything else going on in her life other than trying to solve the past mystery.

Karen White’s Dreams of Falling does not have this issue, and with so many mysteries unfolding at once, it made me realize that sometimes an undistracted heroine is the better choice. Present day is Georgetown, South Carolina, from which protagonist Larkin fled for New York City after something happened her senior year of high school. Now 27, she’s returned because her mother, Ivy, has taken a bad fall at the burnt remains of her dead mother Margaret’s ancestral home. She’s lying in a coma, and Bitty and Ceecee, Margaret’s girlhood best friends, try to reach her. Ivy was a distant mother and Ceecee, who practically raised Ivy, also practically raised Larkin as well. Larkin is estranged from pretty much everyone in town, including her father and high school best friends, so her homecoming would be awkward even without her mother’s life hanging in the balance.

Honestly, I was very confused for the first several chapters, not only trying to keep track of who was whom and how everyone was related to each other, but also of the various mysteries that White introduced. Why was Larkin estranged from everyone? What was Ivy doing at the old homestead? Why was Ivy such a distant mother, and who was this man waiting for her in her coma-dreams? It’s the author’s job to plant questions in the mind of the reader, but when the reader ends up confused rather than intrigued, it’s because there are too many questions. And in this novel, they don’t all pay off.

I kept at it, though, because I really enjoy this type of structure, and eventually it became clearer who was who. There are three points-of-view: Ivy’s coma narration and Larkin are first-person present day, while Ceecee’s third-person-point-of-view takes place in the early 1950s. Hers was the plot I found most interesting. A preacher’s daughter who was completely eclipsed by the more-worldly Margaret, Ceecee is self-aware enough to realize her admiration for her friend is tinged with jealousy. As the reader already knows from early on that Margaret dies in a fire, these sections are overlaid with a tension that Ceecee herself is unaware of, which is what makes this type of structure so enjoyable.

As the book progresses, past and present collide as Larkin starts to question exactly what happened the night of the fire, as well as everything after. (Although it’s strange that neither Larkin nor Ivy ever had questions before.) Her high school drama, as well, comes into play as her estranged father and former best friends press her to resolve the past.

The ending, while fitting, left me a little unsatisfied. As I reached the final pages, it became clear that a lot of the mystery was artificially built up by White’s refusal to correctly label a pivotal relationship in the book. I was also frustrated that a lot of Ivy’s past seemed to have been left on the cutting-room floor, such as why she was such a distant mother. And the reader learns next to nothing about the man in Ivy’s coma dream, while a similar man in Ceecee’s past is firmly three-dimensional.

The dynamic of the southern setting, girlhood best friends now senior citizens, and a strained mother/adult daughter relationship reminded me a lot of Rebecca Wells’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, although without the sense of humor (and regrettable incidences of child abuse) that made those books such a hit. While I found the beginning chapters of Dreams of Falling to be confusing and the ending somewhat lacking, Ceecee’s story alone makes the book worthwhile, as well as this quote from Larkin’s high-school best friend Mabry: “Sometimes we think we’ve changed, when really all we’ve done is grow into the person we were always meant to be.”

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Karen White:


Janine said...

Sounds really good

Dianna said...

I have an ARC of this book to read on my Kindle app but haven't gotten to it yet. I love that Mabry quote you used!