The boy stepped Outside, and he did not die.
“He was not riddled with arrows, his hair did not spring into flame, and his breath did not crush his lungs like spent grocery bags. His eyeballs did not sizzle in their sockets, and his heart’s pistons did not seize. No barbarian lopped his head into a blood-soggy wicker basket, and no glinting ninja stars were zinged into his throat.
Actually, incredibly: nothing happened—no immolation, no blood-bath, no spontaneous asphyxiation, no tide of shivery terror crashing upon the shore of his heart—not even a trace of his mother’s Black Lagoon in his breath.”
How's that for a couple of stunning opening paragraphs. The rest of the book continues in the same vein. Michael Christie has a real ability with language and his characters are well-developed and interesting.
The story is hard to put down. Will, the young son of an agoraphobic mom does not remember ever leaving his house (Inside). The day comes, though, when he does venture Outside (capitals intentional) and his life takes on a new complexity in which he completely immerses himself. Set in present-day Thunder Bay, the story touches on the decline of the grain elevators, problems faced by aboriginal families and individuals, greed, death and alcoholism, as well as mental illness. At the same time we are held aloft by adventure, discovery, freedom, love and friendship. Christie, a former skateboarder, uses that sport in the book with words that themselves leap off the page. His creativity is beyond exciting!
If I Fall, If I Die was an offering of the Afterword Reading Society that I blogged about on Dec. 26 . The book arrived in the mail on Dec. 23 and I finished it on Dec. 28. It is undoubtedly one of the better books I read this year and I am sure that Michael Christie will soon be a Can-Lit favourite.
Part of the agreement with the Afterword Reading Society was to answer a questionnaire, to be returned by January 13. Here it is, with my answers:
If I Fall, If I Die, Michael Christie
Thank-you so much for sending me this book. It was a wonderful page-turner – I had trouble putting it down. Michael Christie is sure to soon become a familiar name in the Canadian literary world. Who ever thought that a 70-ish year old woman (me) would enjoy a book in which skateboarding plays a major role!
Rate this book with a score between 0 and 100. 98
I read If I Fall, If I Die in _16___sittings.
I’m not sure how meaningful this information is. Some of my sittings were 15 min. One was as long as 40 min. and the rest of them fell in between. It took a total of 6 hrs and 45 minutes from start to finish.
What was better: the beginning or the ending?
Why does one have to be better than the other? For me, the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. Since I have to choose, though, I will pick the ending. By then I was familiar with the characters and the writing style of the author whereas, at the beginning, there was a bit of brainwork involved in sorting out what exactly was happening in a very odd Inside/Outside. On the beginning side, though, there’s the adventure just starting and the excitement of discovery. At the end, it was good to find out how things turned out and I enjoyed a bit of a surprise but once the book ended it was sad to say good-bye to characters I had grown to love. Oh heck, I can’t decide.
Who was your favourite character?
I loved Will, the teenage protagonist. I admired his courage, his curiosity, his imagination, his ingenuity, his loyalty, his empathy and his general boyishness. What wasn’t there to like!
Sum up this book in a Tweet (140 characters)
If I Fall, If I Die: brilliant Canadian adventure through boyhood, mental illness, fear and friendship, in language that soars. Read it!
If you like this book, you’ll like (name another book). Why?
1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, another wonderful read about boyhood, family and the triumph of the human spirit.
2. Nathan Filer’s Where the Moon Isn’t , a stunning recent novel, told in the voice of a young man, that takes us on a journey through schizophrenia,
What’s a question you have for Michael?
1. Congratulations on a wonderful novel! What I especially loved about If I Fall, If I Die is the rich and creative language and imagery used. On the very first page, the opening sentences really grabbed me, for example: “He was not riddled with arrows, his hair did not spring into flame, and his breath did not crush his lungs like spent grocery bags.” And “The day’s bronzy light, shredded by a copse of birch, tossed a billion luminous knife blades onto the front lawn.” The description of the taste of (bad) coffee as “cheap hot chocolate mixed with the moldy soil of a neglected houseplant” had me smiling and nodding in agreement. The language used by Titus is particularly interesting and creative (“You two should congeal together. Especially if you insist on perpetuating more ventures to this jurisdiction.”) I wondered if your immersion in the skateboard culture has influenced or enhanced your use of language in any way?
2. I love the compassionate way in which you dealt with mental illness in If I Fall, If I Die. It is wonderful to think that a boy who grows up with a mother who is so mentally damaged can be so understanding and can himself grow up to his full potential, thanks to the love that his mother has been able to embrace him with. Is this the real fiction in the novel? Or are there really possibilities for an eventual normal life for kids with parents living with the challenges of mental illness?3. Clear your throat, Michael Christie! Are you ready for the many interview requests, readings and book signings that will soon be coming your way?
Here's a video of an interview with Michael Christie discussing his 2011 short story collection, The Beggar's Garden, which was long-listed for the 2011 Giller Prize. I have put it on my read-soon list.