If I Fall, If I Die…what will happen? If I fall, will I die? If I die, will it be because I’ve fallen, whether metaphorically or physically?
These questions only brush the surface of the deeper issues raised in Michael Christie’s first novel, If I Fall, If I Die. Lying somewhere between the realm of young adult and literary fiction, If I Fall, If I Die, deals with issues of boyhood, fear, love, self-assertion, and mental illness.
Will Cardiel is twelve years old. He’s lived inside of his house with his mother for those past twelve years, which seems normal enough, until you realize that he has literally not left the house in twelve years, or at least in any portion of those twelve years that he remembers. We meet Will right as he is about to venture “Outside” for the first time, and though he is immediately confronted with adversity, and his internal “Black Lagoon” (i.e. fear) is boiled up inside of him, he can’t seem to stay away from the Outside.
Will attends school, makes friends, finds a love interest, starts skateboarding, and then stumbles upon a Goonies-esque mystery involving criminal adults, buried family history and a grain alcohol called Neverclear. This plotline spins the novel from a heavy, psychologically driven novel into an adventure tale. Though at first this shift is a bit jarring, the boyhood adventure sections help to lift a bit of the weight from the heavier areas of the novel that can bog a reader down with their depressive aspects.
Though Will sees the Black Lagoon in everyone that he meets in the Outside, he recognizes that his mother seems to experience prolonged sessions of “Black Lagooning” that the reader recognizes as depression. His mother Diane, a once moderately well-known artist, is now an agoraphobic recluse with a whole slew of phobias penetrating her ability to live any semblance of a functional life. Before abandoning his secluded life, Will is the one who answers the door for packages (since the mother and son don’t leave the house to go shopping), does the laundry (because his mother is afraid of the basement), and is essentially his mother’s caretaker and source of entertainment.
From the outset it is clear that Diane is not a fully functioning or typical mother; however, there are times where her love for Will shines so clearly that despite her flaws you can’t help but feel there’s some truth, some kernel of distanced reality, that shines through her extremely deluded thoughts. Her fears of failing Will, of not giving him the best that she can, of in birthing him having condemned him to death, are fears that all people who are around children enough find themselves feeling. It’s simply the way that Will’s mother deals with these fears that are atypical and turn her into a nonfunctioning mother who essentially begins to fulfill her own greatest fears concerning her child.
Christie gives us access to Diane’s thoughts throughout If I Fall, If I Die in the form “Relaxation Time:” a time where Diane sits with headphones that play disjointing noises while she relays her memories and fears into a tape recorder. Through Relaxation Time we gain access not only into her past, but we are also able to see her slow decline over the portion of time that the novel covers as she slips further into the intangible Black Lagoon, into drugs, and into further neglect of Will.
If I Fall, If I Die is the perfect amalgamation of hilarity and terror, of action and narrative, and of reality and the idea of sometimes needing to step out of what you perceive as the totality of your reality in order to understand the world is much bigger than you think. A book about taking chances, living life, understanding love and accepting fear, If I Fall, If I Die takes you everywhere you need to go and further.
Released by Hogarth publishing in 2015, you can find If I Fall, If I Die at your local bookstore.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.