BREAKING HER FALL by Stephen Goodwin

I am submitting this post to a Bookworms blog canival hosted by Reading is My Superpower, one of my favorite book blogs.  (A blog carnival is a regular collection of posts on a particular topic, all of which are posted on a particular blog). The carnival theme for this month is Surviving the Dog Days of Summer: Books That Take Your Mind Off the Heat.

I am deeply entrenched in the dog days of summer here in Washington, DC. The last few days have topped 100 degrees, without the typical late afternoon DC thunderstorm to clear the air and lower the temperature.

Until tonight, I’ve been escaping through the pages of Breaking Her Fall, by Stephen Goodwin, which is all the more remarkable given that the book is set… during a hot Washington DC summer.

Breaking Her Fall opens with Tucker, a single father of two, learning from another parent that his 14-year old daughter spent her evening not at a movie, as he thought, but at a party where she performed sex acts on a succession of high school boys.  His reaction is extreme; he heads to the site of the party and loses control when he confronts the young host and his friends. The book is about the aftermath of this disastrous night, and how his relationship with his daughter is affected by both of their actions.

I was thoroughly hooked from the start. Goodwin is a good writer; the prose flowed flawlessly without hitting many false notes. It was well-paced and lean, without extraneous characters and plots.  At times, I marveled at his ability to move the story along through subtle plot developments – I have always wondered how writers seem to come up wth those twists at exactly the right time.

Mostly, though, I was struck by Goodwin’s heartbreaking insights into parent-child relationships and how they are strained and changed by adolescence and the need for independence.  Goodwin also has a keen eye for modern relationships and the politics of upper-middle class urban society. I read somewhere that this book is about how “passion rearranges lives” – perfect description. I wish I had come up with it on my own.

I do take issue with the ending – I know this is a common theme of mine – I think that he went a little off-track toward the end, especially with the resolution of two of the three major plotlines.  I tend to have that complaint a lot – I think writers don’t always know how to close and end up being a little too tidy.  Real life doesn’t end cleanly – why should fiction?

I will also add that I got a thrill from reading a book with so much geographic detail – down to street names – that is set in a city that I know so well. It’s rare that you can picture the action taking place in your head with such familiarity and detail, and I really enjoyed it.

I have been recommending this book since page 20 and I will continue to do so. Very good read. And a great escape when the temperature tops the charts.

9 Comments

  • Kari
    August 9, 2007 - 9:14 am | Permalink

    Do you have daughters? The book sounds interesting, but also like one that will make me cringe thinking about the paranoia and stress I will be experiencing in about 12 yrs, as the mother of 2 daughters. I think I will still put it on hold at the lib. Thanks.

  • August 9, 2007 - 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kari! Thanks for reading – I am impressed that you have read so many books from the blog! Yes, I do have daughters – twin 3 year olds. I hear you. It’s very scary, and much of this book is painful for that reason. The book addresses parents’ inability to protect their kids as they grow older, and it’s sad. I’d definitely order it fom the library!

  • Teha
    August 10, 2007 - 10:01 am | Permalink

    Maybe I’m simple-minded, but I like endings where everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow. Then I don’t drive myself nuts wondering which possible ending scenario was most likely. I do enough of that in real life 🙂
    This sounds like a good read- thanks for the recommendation.

  • Nancy West
    August 10, 2007 - 11:25 am | Permalink

    Hi Gayle and Everyone,
    I liked this novel a lot, though I thought a few elements left room for improvement. It is well-plotted and had lots of memorable details in terms of storyline and characters. As I wrote in an earlier comment (when the topic was Dani Shapiro), “Breaking Her Fall” is one of the best books I’ve read about how random twists of fate can cause a family to combust, or very nearly so…
    My only criticisms of this book are that I do think Goodwin is occasionally heavy-handed with the “insider-ness” of some of his descriptions, trying a little too hard to show us how familiar he is with this particular milieu. He is a college writing instructor, and there are several places in this novel where I feel like he’s saying “Look, students: let me show you how it’s done.” The result is often a lack of subtlety. For example, his characterization of all the various DC-area prep schools. I have no doubt that he’s absolutely accurate in his distinctions between Cathedral and St. Albans (or whatever), but I felt like he was trying too hard to be clever, almost as if he was already anticipating the post-publication cocktail parties at which his DC friends would say “Wow, you REALLY nailed it with those descriptions of all the different schools!” Yes, it may be accurate, but it’s a too-easy way of showing familiarity with your subject. I could do the same thing with Boston-area prep schools, and I’d be accurate, but cleverness does not equate to insight. Contrast it with, say, “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld. Her accuracy in describing prep school sent chills down my spine at times, but it seemed very natural and did not feel as if she was gloating at her own cleverness.
    Same with the baby boomer garage band in “Breaking Her Fall.” We happen to have a baby boomer band just like that in my town who perform at parties and fundraisers (we call them The Soccer Dads, though that’s not really the band’s name) — and to me, Goodwin’s description of the group felt overwrought, too intent on showing that these are REAL GUYS and he REALLY KNOWS THEM and if you’re lucky enough to be one of his friends, maybe you can even guess who they are!
    This probably sounds really nitpicky — did anyone else get this feeling from “Breaking Her Fall”? Overall, I think it’s a very good novel, and I definitely encourage anyone who finds Gayle’s description intriguing to read it.

  • August 13, 2007 - 10:18 am | Permalink

    Not my usual type of book, but this one sounds like it might be an interesting read. Perhaps I’ll look for it at the library—thanks for reviewing it!
    I’m not that far from you (Annapolis) and oh yeah, the heat and humidity are driving me nuts. I moved here from New England several years ago and still haven’t gotten used to it!

  • Denever
    August 26, 2007 - 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I loved this book and read it almost uncritically the first time around (almost four years ago). I’ve been meaning to re-read it to see whether it holds up.

  • June 24, 2010 - 11:10 pm | Permalink

    He is a college writing instructor, and there are several places in this novel where I feel like he’s saying “Look, students: let me show you how it’s done.” The result is often a lack of subtlety.

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