FALLEN LAND by Patrick Flanery
“When people asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up, Paul Krovik did not say he was going to be a fireman or soldier or pilot, as some boys will before they know the kind of drudgery and danger such jobs entail. He did not want to be an actor or rock star or astronaut, nor did he harbor secret desires to dance, design clothes, or write poetry â€” the kinds of dreams most in his world would have regarded as evidence that his parents had failed to raise a true man, whatever that might mean.
He always wanted to build houses.
And now they are trying to take away the only house that belonged to him. He is not about to give up the one thing he ever wanted.”
Review by Roger BrunyateÂ (JAN 23, 2014)
A perfect title for a stunning book. Its literal meaning is explained in the 1919 prologue, when a tree on which two men have been lynched falls deep into a sinkhole with the bodies still on it. The rest of the novel takes place in the present, or perhaps the not too distant future, when the land has been developed as an upscale subdivision for a rapidly growing city in the Midwest. But we are not quite there yet. In a second, slightly longer prologue, a woman goes to visit a convict on death row. It is a creepy, brilliant scene, although we know little of either of them, except that his name is Paul Krovik, and she regards him as a destroyer.
The next 380 pages tell of Paul’s crime, among much else. He starts out as a property developer, building neo-Victorian houses with more love than skill, and when the recession hits and he is sued by purchasers demanding repairs, he goes bankrupt and his own house is foreclosed. It is bought cheap at auction by Nathaniel and Julia Noailles (pronounced “no-eye”), a couple who move from Boston with their seven-year-old son Copley. Large sections are told through their eyes, but they have two watchful neighbors who ad the protagonists of their own sections. One is Mrs. Washington, an African-American woman whose century-old farmhouse gets condemned to make way for the new development. And the other is Paul Krovik himself, who cannot bear to lose touch with his former property. So the title gets another meaning: the erasure of farmland and the rural way of life to make way for subdivisions springing up like faceless Stepfords. And it is all focused on the house, like a horror movie in the making. Nathaniel and Julia gut it of all its detail, paint it white, and install security, but still feel they have moved into an alien environment. Copley, brilliant, unhappy, and borderline autistic, believes the house has been invaded by strangers, but his parents merely take him to the doctor for medication.
One of the remarkable things that Flanery does is to recalibrate our sympathies. Yes, we will discover why Kravik is arrested, but he is not the worst villain of the piece. The company that Nathaniel works for, a Haliburton-like global conglomerate called EKK, specializing in total security, has virtually rebuilt the city as a company town, requiring compliance to its right-wing rules. I mentioned Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives; there are also after-echoes of Orwell’s 1984 in the inhuman authoritarianism that only seems futuristic if you ignore the changes that have already taken place over the past dozen years. That is the third meaning of the title: the moral fall of this land, America, from a country of humanity and individualism towards a managed state of paranoid conformity.
And it starts young. The scenes in the company school where Copley goes made me livid, especially as the parent of a once-troubled child myself. Indeed, the more the boy was in the limelight, the more disturbing the story became. For there are other themes in play beyond corporate security. The legacy of abusive parents, for example. The tyranny of psychologists and psychiatrists. The intolerance of anything a little bit out of the ordinary: an old black woman who won’t sell her land, a sensitive boy who prefers reading to sports, a same-sex couple who set up house together. Although this is in no sense a personal confession — indeed it has the makings of a good Hollywood movie written all over it — it is hard not to look past its mounting terror and political commentary, and wonder about what experiences the writer must have had to write with such conviction about outsiders. And that makes a special book very special indeed.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 32 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Riverhead Hardcover (August 15, 2013)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Patrick Flanery|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|