Author: Laura Moriarty
Rating: 3 stars
I’ve had While I’m Falling on my bookshelf for years, which made it the perfect candidate for the TBR Pile Challenge. (This is book five! I can’t believe I’ve stuck to it this long.) My brother picked it up for me at a library book sale, and I meant to read it, but life kept getting in the way, and when I looked at the blurb I had the sneaking suspicion that I probably wouldn’t like it very much, anyway. Well, it turns out it’s not terrible, but it’s not really the book for me, either.
Veronica is a twenty year old pre-med student whose life is falling apart in spectacular fashion. First, her parents get a divorce that no one saw coming. Then, in rapid succession, she struggles with her chosen major, crashes a near-stranger’s car, wrecks his apartment during a large party, sort-of cheats on her boyfriend, and faces general calamity. Meanwhile her mother, Natalie, struggling to pay bills during the divorce and to find relevance and career security after being a stay-at-home mom for almost thirty years, ends up homeless and saddled with an elderly, ailing dog. She winds up at Veronica’s dorm, and the two characters have to face the mess of their lives together.
I enjoyed Moriarty’s The Chaperone, mostly because it subverted so many of my expectations and didn’t feel as “Woman’s Fiction/Chick-Lit” as I anticipated it being. It had shades of that, but still surprised me. But While I’m Falling is very Chick-Lit. That’s not to say there’s not relevance to be found in Chick-Lit, but for me it felt quite shallow. Very sentimental. I knew, almost exactly, the arc the story would take and how it would ultimately end. If I had embraced the characters or the writing, that would have more than made up for it, but the characters annoyed me and the writing had a weird structural choice that threw me off.
I didn’t like Veronica. This is a problem as she was (for the most part) the narrator. There were a few reasons I didn’t like her. For one, she didn’t seem twenty, outside of her naiveté. She mostly had the internal life of a much older woman. For another, she never once was conscious of her privilege. “Poor” means Dad made some bad investments and they had to cut their country club membership. “Hardship” means–horrors!–she has to work as an RA to help pay for college and doesn’t have a car. Of course this serves a purpose, leading to conflict when her mother ends up homeless, but even when things hit the farthest rock bottom, she is still a woman with plenty of options, well-off family members, a boring boyfriend who’s going to make plenty of money down the road, a job, a place to live, no real student loans. I just wish that once, instead of complaining about having to bum rides (like every college student ever) or live in a dorm, or knit Christmas presents instead of buying them, Veronica would acknowledge that she was not that bad off, all things considered.
Natalie was Veronica plus thirty years and one divorce. The book didn’t really distinguish her more than that. I even kept mixing up their names. (Veronica was a first person narrator, and every time I came across her name in the book I thought, “who?”) Natalie gets two third-person POV chapters in this book, randomly interspersed with Veronica’s narrative, which was really distracting. If you want to have multiple POVs in your book that’s fine, but please, let there be some structure.
Even at it’s most dramatic (Natalie getting picked up by a dubious trucker, Natalie getting drunk at the house party she shouldn’t be throwing and kissing a guy who’s written much more interestingly than her actual boyfriend), While I’m Falling is meditative, quiet, kind of boring. All in all, I’m about as ambivalent to this read as I was for the last one of the challenge, Graceling. I really need a book to come along and wow me, quick.