|Apr/May 2011 Reviews & Interviews|
Fall For Anything
St Martin's. 2010. 224 pp.
Eddie's father, a well-known photographer, has committed suicide, and no one understands why. Her mother is somewhere deep within herself in her grief, and a family friend Beth's tough-love approach enrages Eddie. Believing that she can't achieve peace until she knows why her father killed himself, Eddie sets out—on her own—to understand her father's motivations. When her path crosses with her father's protégé Culler Evans, Eddie finds clues to her father's
actions, notably in a box of photographs he left behind.
Photographs—what they say, and what they leave out—are a key motif in Courtney Summers's wrenching new YA novel, Fall for Anything. Photographs capture the truth, but they are one particular representation of one particular reality—the thousand words each picture tells can differ from viewer to viewer. As Eddie's investigations progress, she is forced to accept that many truths may co-exist, and that there is more than one way of seeing things. Nowhere, perhaps, is the latter more poignantly realized than in Eddie's dawning self-awareness and in her view of herself. There's a lovely scene when Eddie sees herself in Culler's photographs:
"I stare at the girl in them and I don't believe I am her...My grief is on me. I can see it plainly in my eyes and that makes my throat tight and my stomach hurt. I remember how I felt that exact moment, knowing how alive and young I was/am—and I see it here, so much. It's like there's something there in me, just waiting to be realized. And now it's gone. I think it must be gone."
Is it gone? You'll have to read the novel and find out, and even then, you may not be sure. Summers is fiendishly good at characters and scenes which open themselves to multiple interpretations and outcomes. Is Culler's artistic vision "Art is not compromise..." pretentious or profound? And I bet Beth is the target of much teen-reader ire, while I mostly sympathized with her good, if horribly misguided, intentions.
Summers's refusal to spell things out for her readers finds its deepest expression in Eddie's self doubt and confusion. The uncertainties of adolescence have been massively magnified by her father's death, and Eddie is now second-guessing everything she believed in, wondering what significance she should assign to events and people around her. Eddie's grief and her search for meaning make her horribly vulnerable, and it would have been painful (and a bit one-note) to read about Eddie's truth-seeking crusade if not for Summers investing her character with tender dignity. Eddie is confused, a bit of a mess, and we feel desperately sorry for her, but she's not pathetic and she doesn't need to be saved by someone—she can do that by herself.
And while Summers isn't a prose stylist, she picks her words very carefully, paring them down so as to infuse her writing with tension. She telescopes the emotions of a lifetime into events spanning a few weeks, and her characters are complex enough to live up to the demands of the plot. Or is it the other way around? Fall for Anything is so seamlessly engineered that either answer works.