“The boy stepped Outside and he did not die.” One of the most promising beginnings to a novel that I’ve encountered in a long time. If I Fall, If I Die tells the story of 12 year old Will, whose agoraphobic mother has kept him indoors all his life. When the novel begins, a noise outside his home leads Will to take his first taste of freedom.
The novel has such a powerful beginning. We experience with Will his fears at his first steps outside, his uncertainty at dealing with other people, and finally his exhilaration at discovering how limitless the world really is. Coupled with that is his guilt over, in a way, leaving his mother behind. I love the interplay between Will’s emotions, and his warring desires to introduce his mother to the wonders of Outside while at the same time to make her feel safe and comfortable, which she can only really feel within the walls of their home.
I also really loved the glimpse into the mindset of Will’s mother Diane. Christie details how a single day at the subway transformed her into a woman too afraid to leave her front door. At one point, he writes, “How easy it is for a life to become tiny. How cleanly the world falls away.” (page 16) That entire chapter is such a potent, moving depiction of how easy it is to slip into agoraphobia, & how terrifying/paralyzing the condition can be.
The story falters a bit when it leaves behind Diane’s story somewhat and focuses on Will’s life Outside. He happens to become involved somehow with some unsavoury characters, and ends up trying to solve a fairly complex mystery dealing with some dangerous criminals. Even as this part of the plot began, I could see how it could develop into a potential motivation for Diane to face her fear, but from such a powerfully intimate beginning, these developments just felt contrived. From such depth of emotion in the characters’ internal worlds, the shift to a primarily external plot was jarring, moreover, disappointing. It was all just a little too convenient, and I wondered how Will and Diane would have dealt with the shift in their dynamics if Will’s life had stayed just a tad more ordinary — how much much poignant the catharsis would have felt.
That being said, there’s just a gorgeous line near the end of the book that brought back, somewhat, what I loved so much about the beginning:
But the shadow that love can’t help but cast is fear: fear they won’t stay alive or around — fear they’ll be reckless, or doomed, or just walk away and not consider you ever again. With love, you’re scared it will disappear. With fear, you’re scared it never will. (page 323)
Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.