If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

21462154I’ve had this book for a while; picked it up a few times, put it back down for something else. But, when the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize Long-list came out, and this book was on it, I finally decided to dive in.

If I Fall, If I Die is about an agoraphobic mother and her son who live in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Although Will’s mother never demanded that he stay inside with her, he always has. Partly because he’s grown up with a mother who is fearful of the Outside, partly because that’s just the life he’s always known and he’s been content, and partly because he feels protective of her and wants to help keep the ‘Black Lagoon’ at bay. At 12, he has a pretty good idea of what will soothe his mother and what will set her off.

Diane

Part of the reason I was drawn to this book was to read about the experience of a mother with agoraphobia. It would be incredibly difficult and frustrating not to be able to be a part of your child’s outside life, not to mention one of your own. We get a good sense of what got Diane to this point in her life, and what it feels like for her, but I would like to have seen Diane’s present day progress explored more fully to get a better sense of where she will be with her life in the near future. Instead, Will’s story takes the spotlight. Which is okay, except…

Will

The way Will’s character makes the adjustment from Inside to Outside, and then to school and trying to make friends, after having zero experience with any of it made sense to me; the ways he embarrasses himself, the fact that he found it easiest to hook up with the kids who were on the fringes like himself. I also liked reading about Will’s relationship with his mother, and his thoughts and feelings about having a mother who is afraid of everything. Once he gets Outside, he starts to realize how limited their life was/is, and begins to feel much more conflicted about his mother and their life.

Where I start to wonder about the story is when Will and his friend get in over their heads with the mystery they are trying to solve. Once we get near the end and the boys are confronted with the ‘bad guys’, I feel like the story shifts from literary fiction to teen mystery. It reminded me of old Batman episodes where the villains talk to their victims long enough for help to come along at the last minute; a bit silly and far-fetched. Another reviewer, Michael Hingston at the Globe and Mail, likened it to a Hardy Boys mystery.

But… at least these things didn’t also happen.

Things I was worried were going to happen but didn’t:

  1. A love interest for Will’s mother, Diane. You know, a man coming to the door and falling in love with her on the spot, falling for her beauty and mysteriousness. But, that didn’t happen, which is a good thing.
  2. A cure for Diane. Near the end, and at the climax of the boys’ mystery, I was getting afraid that Diane would be suddenly cured when she realized she cared more about helping her son stay safe than her own fears. This would have fit in nicely with the teen mystery type book, but just wouldn’t have been realistic at all.

The fact that I was worried these things were going to happen tells me that I didn’t feel confident in the hands of Michael Christie and his book. The first half had my full trust, but the second half let me down.

23346958Giller Prize?

Is this book Giller Prize calibre? I am certainly not qualified to be the judge of this, but I will say that I don’t think this one is quite good enough for the shortlist. Recommended for a good read, though, especially if you’re interested in anxiety issues/agoraphobia. Christie also does a stellar job of depicting the town of Thunder Bay; how it once was, and what it is like today; it’s industries, economics, and on-going racial tensions.

**Since writing this review, the Giller Prize shortlist has come out. I’m not surprised to see that If I Fall, If I Die is not on it. And, I’m happy to see that Fifteen Dogs and Martin John are.

Michael Christie, who used to be a professional skateboarder, talks to The Quill and Quire about If I Fall, If I Die. He talks about how his mother’s mental health issues shaped his life, and how the story in the book is based very much on his own. (Getting to know a little about the author and the origins of the book always helps me see the book in a different light.)

The Beggar’s Garden, a collection of linked stories, is Michael Christie’s first book and one which I would also like to read.

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25 thoughts on “If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

    • Naomi says:

      I have been wondering that myself these days, but I think it’s kind of an illusion. I had a back-up of books from the summer that have carried over. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts! 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      There was a lot in this book that I really did enjoy, and I’m glad I read it. I’m wondering if The Beggar’s Garden would be better, though.

  1. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    Oh, too bad this book didn’t fully live up to your expectations. I had to smile a bit at the Hardy Boys mystery comparison. But it is good that the author didn’t resort to unrealistic twists to the story. Those can really ruin a story. (And yes, how do you find so much time to read and write?)

    • Naomi says:

      I just responded to Bunty that I think it is a bit of an illusion, because I had a lot of back-up from a slow summer of blogging. Some of the books I wrote about in September were from then. In fact, I still have one more to go. Whatever the reason, it won’t last, so I’ll enjoy it while I can! 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      Exactly. I wish it had stuck more with the two of them as their lives moved forward. I am still wondering what’s going to happen with Diane. I didn’t expect to know everything, but I wish I had some sense of where her life would go from that first year of Will discovering the Outside. Maybe the author felt like he needed more in his book, but I don’t think he did.

      • The Paperback Princess says:

        I so agree – I don’t think he needed more.
        I went to hear him speak and was surprised to learn how personal the story of the agoraphobic mom actually was. Maybe it was too hard to focus on that but I wish that that had been the direction it had taken. You don’t need a lot of action for a great story.

      • Naomi says:

        It doesn’t really surprise me that he’s had some experience with it, because I thought his depiction of her and her anxiety were very well done. Maybe he’ll write about it again sometime.

  2. Karen says:

    Comparing it to a teen mystery was a great call. I can totally see it. I was one of the ones who liked the second half of the novel; I got so swept up in everything! That being said, I loved reading your thoughtful review. Like BuntyMcC, I’m always in awe of your bountiful and well-written reviews! (Btw – I LOVE the paperback cover for this book. I like it so much more than the hardcover.)

    • Naomi says:

      You know, as I was reading it, I was enjoying it until close to the end when I sat back and thought, wait a minute, why is he going in this direction? I wanted him to stay focused on Will and Diane’s relationship, rather than on the mystery. But, that might be a personal taste thing, I think. I can see why a lot of readers would be content with the story he wrote, too, especially because it has more action and plot that way.
      Thank you for the kind words. 🙂

  3. Carole Besharah says:

    Ahhh, well it didn’t make the shortlist after all.

    I do want to read it because it is set in Thunder Bay. My husband grew up there and we have visited the city a few times.

    I loved this review. Thanks for sharing, Naomi.

    • Naomi says:

      Oh, you should definitely still read it then, because Thunder Bay really was almost like one of the characters. I wanted to talk about it more, actually, but my post was already too long. 🙂

  4. Don Royster says:

    I checked out the Giller Prize website. I could not find a criterion for their prize selection. I did however discover the wonderful writer Alistair MacLeod had passed on in 2014. I was saddened by his passing as well as the fact that I missed it.

  5. Lynn says:

    This sounds like something I would like. Thanks for your review! Yet another on the TBR list! 🙂 I also added one of MacLeod’s books! I always learn something from your posts, Naomi! I love it! 🙂

  6. susan says:

    I remember seeing this novel and almost picking it up. It has an interesting premise, and I definitely feel for the author having a mother with such issues. It’s neat too about his skateboarding. But I guess the 2nd half of the book falls short eh? Which book will win the Giller this year? What do you think?

    • Naomi says:

      I would still recommend it, especially if you find the premise appealing!
      Tough question. I’ve only read two of the shortlisted books, and I can’t even choose between those two. Ha! I’ve heard good things about O’Neill’s book, not as many about Arvida, and it’s gone both ways with Outline. Based on almost nothing, I’m going to guess Outline. It has also made the GG list.But, who knows? I can say that both Martin John and Fifteen Dogs are excellent!

  7. The Cue Card says:

    I remember this novel from the spring and almost picking it up. The premise sounds promising and I feel for the author who had a mother with such issues. The skateboarding in it too sounds pretty cool. But alas, too bad it didn’t hold up in the 2nd half. From the Giller short list, which book do you think will win it???

  8. ebookclassics says:

    I agree the book felt uneven because it does change genres all of sudden. But I enjoyed the story and the depiction of Thunder Bay, so I still think this was an impressive debut novel.

    • Naomi says:

      I still liked it, too. And, it made me want to read other things by him. Maybe he’ll come back to similar topics in another book. His depiction of Thunder Bay was excellent.

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