By Colin McAdam
The “Fall” that provides the title to this finely-crafted thriller is Fallon DeStindt, a student at an exclusive Ottawa-area boarding school who mysteriously disappears half way through the book. Two people who seem to be implicated are her boyfriend Julius, son of the American ambassador, and Julius’s roommate Noel, son of Canada’s Consul General to Australia (author Colin McAdam is himself the son of a diplomat and attended Ottawa’s Ashbury College, so he knows the milieu).
The presentation is similar to that in McAdam’s accalimed debut Some Great Thing, shuttling skilfully among different points of view and making heavy use of a stream-of-consciousness approach in the Julius sections. The immediacy of these parts suits Julius’s personality, as he is an unreflective, somewhat naive bundle of hormones, living only in the moment and head-over-heels in love with Fall. Political allegory takes a turn for the psychosexual when our well-hung, innocent neighbour to the south meets Noel, a creepy closet case far less well-endowed who likes to lift weights and read Thomas Hobbes. Noel tells his side of the story looking back on the events from a mature perspective. Still in Ottawa, he has landed a job with the CRTC.
There’s a B-movie, Single White Male-flavour to all of this, but the writing is fresh and alert throughout, allowing McAdam to express the random poetry of perception (“words chasing thoughts”) while recreating the claustrophobic atmosphere of the boarding school and its little world of boredom, privilege, and “enforced infantilization.” The plot is also deftly handled, from its puzzle-without-a-solution missing center to the playful sidenotes and paranoid leitmotifs. Bald men start to seem particularly sinister.
The only real negative is the amount of time spent on the heavy petting and puppy love that goes on between Julius and Fall. Young lovers are annoying enough when passed on the street; this amount of close exposure – not excluding the bumping teeth as they stare deep, deep into one another’s eyes – is too much, especially given the stylistic extremes these sections go to (sex, for example, is rendered as “Phoo. Ooo. Aah. Mm. Sss. Pha. Sh. Ga. Ga. Gah.” etc.). Add to this the truism that the villain in such pieces is always more interesting than the beautiful people and the love story seems that much weaker in comparison.
This is, however, a minor point of emphasis that does little to diminish what is a smart and well-paced literary page-turner from an exciting new talent.
Review first published in Quill & Quire, May 2009.