Not long after writing about Alistair MacLeod’s short story, The Boat, I started hearing about plans for making In the Fall into a short film, which you can read about here and here. It’s going to be a beautiful film if they can capture the atmosphere from the story, but boy is it going to be sad.
In the Fall (1973)
It is hard to realize that this is the same ocean that is the crystal blue of summer when only the thin oil-slicks left by the fishing boats or the startling whiteness of the rising seagulls mar its azure sameness. Now it is roiled and angry, and almost anguished; hurling up the brown dirty balls of scudding foam, the sticks of pulpwood from some lonely freighter, the caps of unknown men, buoys from mangled fishing nets and the inevitable bottles that contain no messages. And always also the shred of blackened and stringy seaweed that it has ripped and torn from its own lower regions, as if this is the season for self-mutilation — the pulling out of the secret, private, unseen hair.
A boy watches his father as he stands and looks out the window of their small house at the horse in the pasture. The horse has been with them a long time, but is getting old. The boy’s mother is trying to convince his father to sell the horse – he eats more than he’s worth now that he’s too old to work. The mother will be home alone with the horse and the children all winter while her husband’s working in Halifax, and she’s worried there won’t be enough food for the cattle.
Her husband hesitates. And argues. He loves that horse.
My father had been his driver for two winters in the underground and they had become fond of one another and in the time of the second spring, when he left the mine forever, the man had purchased the horse from the Company so that they might both come out together to see the sun and walk upon the grass. And that the horse might be saved from the blindness that would inevitably come if he remained within the deeps; the darkness that would make him like itself.
But what must be done will be done. The horse must go, and the boy must learn that these things happen.
MacRae, the drover, comes to get the horse. [The villain.]
He is short and heavy-set with a red face and a cigar in the corner of his mouth. His eyes are small and bloodshot… He carries a heavy stock whip in his hand and taps it against the side of his boot.
“How’d you like to have a pecker on you like that fella?… Boy, you get hung like that, you’ll have all them horny little girls squealin’ for you to take ’em behind the bushes. No time like it with them little girls, just when the juice starts runnin’ in ’em and they’re findin’ out what it’s for.” He runs his tongue over his lips appreciatively and thwacks his whip against the sodden wetness of his boot.
They watch as MacRae tries to lead the horse up the ramp into his truck. The horse refuses to go and eventually needs to be led up the ramp by the boy’s father. The horse follows, trusting him completely after all these years. (Which is what breaks your heart.)
But, thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. There is a happier lesson for the boy to learn as he watches a tender moment between his parents, after everything that has happened.
A favourite passage about how the wind was blowing that day – so windy that “you hear so much that you can hardly hear at all“…
As we leave the melancholy little building the wind cuts in from the ocean with renewed fury. It threatens to lift you off your feet and blow you to the skies and your crotch is numb and cold as your clothes are flattened hard against the front of your body, even as they tug and snap at your back in insistent, billowing balloons. Unless you turn or lower your head it is impossible to breathe, for the air is blown back almost immediately into your lungs, and your throat convulses and heaves.
23 thoughts on “In the Fall: A Short Story by Alistair MacLeod”
I don’t think I could take reading this whole story since my heart is breaking at your summary. The trust that animals give humans is so often misused – although in this case, I recognize that the boy’s father would be heartbroken to have to do this. Just too sad!
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started reading this. I feel bad enough when I have to take my pets to the vet!
The passages you’ve picked out are so beautiful. I think this would break my heart. One to read when I’m feeling strong enough for it!
It *is* heartbreaking, but the ending just might make up for it. 🙂
Couldn’t agree more Naomi, it truly pulls on those heart strings.
I remember that the last time you reviewed a book by him it sounded good. I’m going to have to read one.
He’s best known for his short stories, but he also wrote a novel called “No Great Mischief” that got a lot of recognition.
Maybe that’s what I’m thinking about.
Oh, my goodness, I’m heartbroken just reading your review! I love the writing but couldn’t possibly read this one…
I’m kind of glad I don’t own a horse after reading this…
God he is such a good writer isn’t he? I’m not even a big horse person (I’m allergic) but that passage breaks my heart about him being led into the truck. Oi!
My plan was to make my way through all the stories, but the more I read, the more I want to save some of them. I will just have to start over again!
Guranteed to reduce the stoniest-hearted reader to tears with that storyline. The writing is gorgeous. Do you think you’ll see the film?
I’m afraid to see it now! But my curiosity will most likely get the better of me. And the scenery will be gorgeous!
I often wonder if writers find themselves blubbering along as they write?
I’m always wary when animals appear in book but it so much worse on screen.
Oh my. A film? I haven’t gotten his stories to fit with their titles yet in my memory, but when my eyes scanned down your post as I set to read, I just needed to see one word to remember which story this was. I can’t even read the rest of your post now although I’m sure you have done a lovely job of it. But I have wept so hard over his stories and this one in particular. Having said that, it might also be one of my favourite short stories. I had begun doing a read-through of his stories, with an eye to doing what I did with Munro’s, but I settled on Mavis Galant instead; probably in an effort to avoid further weeping. His work certainly deserves detailed consideration. I’m glad you’re writing about this one, even if I can’t bear to look!
Like I said in another comment, I can’t help but wonder if he was crying along as he wrote this. Did he wonder if he was going too far with the horse story? Or did he think the sadder the better?
I take it you won’t be watching the film? 😉
I just might continue doing this with his stories. Probably not on any kind of a schedule, though…
You’re quite right. The film would do me in. Although I am glad that they are making it all the same. I saw a documentary about him once and I didn’t feel as though he was consciously sculpting his fiction, rather that he was drawing on experience and a sense of inevitability. I’ve tried to find the documentary again, since he died, but I didn’t have any luck. Maybe I should go searching again. Does your library have video resources on Atlantic writers?
I have no idea! Things are so easy to find on line now that I have never thought to look at the library, which is kind of sad. I’ll have to look into that!
Beautiful review, Naomi, but like others here I am getting really sad just reading about the story! And that’s a super-villain-y villain!
I was surprised to come across such a crude passage in one of his stories! Which is why I included it… it’s such a contrast to his beautiful descriptive writing.
This was my favorite of many favorites contained within the pages of “Island”. Alistair MacLeod had a way with words that I sorely miss.
So far, I’ve only read the two stories from the book – I’m looking forward to more! But also taking my time, knowing that there are no more coming. 😦