When I finished and Falling, Fly, the first words out of my mouth were, “Wow, what a mindf*ck.” The cover art, while a beautiful example of its kind, seems to imply a fairly standard urban fantasy. and Falling, Fly is anything but.
Skyler White unfolds this story through the eyes of two main characters, Olivia and Dominic. Olivia lives in a world of sensual depravity; she believes she is a fallen angel and a vampire, doomed to spend eternity as a lonely predator unless she finds a loophole in her damnation. Her chapters are narrated in the first person, present tense. Dominic is a neuroscientist who has visions of past lives but believes they are hallucinations or seizures. He seeks a cure for his condition, and later for Olivia’s plight; he believes they both suffer from mental illness, not ancient curses. His chapters are written in third person, past tense. Olivia and Dominic show us two sides of White‘s bizarre world, two ways of looking at things. Who’s right, the true believer or the rational scientist? and Falling, Fly raises plenty of questions about these characters and their troubles, and leaves many of them unanswered.
The early chapters remind me of a cross between Anne Rice ‘s Interview with the Vampire and Elizabeth Hand ‘s Black Light. Like Interview, the book explores the loneliness of eternal beings, and the question of what makes one “saved” or “damned.” Like Black Light, and Falling, Fly takes us on a trippy tour through a debauched setting peopled with jaded celebrants. And like Black Light, it sometimes drags a bit; even when you realize that the “meanderingness” of it is intentional — creating a hellish atmosphere and expressing the characters’ ennui — it still gets a little draggy. This happens in both points of view. Olivia’s vampiric bacchanalia and Dominic’s departmental politics feel equally empty.
But when Olivia and Dominic meet, and Falling, Fly really takes off, pardon the bad pun. The two have opposite worldviews but in a few significant ways are more alike than different, and there is an instant “click” between them. Perhaps their feelings develop into love a little more quickly than is realistic, but it’s not a problem here; their connection brings a much-welcome splash of color into the previously bleak atmosphere. Nothing will be easy for this couple; they face persecution from other damned souls as well as the conflict that comes from their competing worldviews. He thinks she’s crazy, she thinks he’s in denial, people are trying to kill them both, and the worst danger of all is that their lifelong goals, if achieved, would separate them forever.
and Falling, Fly reaches an ending that satisfies and yet leaves the reader’s brain buzzing. What it reminds me most of, finally, is Caitlin R. Kiernan ‘s The Red Tree. The two novels have completely different plots, but both keep you wondering which events were “real” and which took place solely within the characters’ minds, and both probably have to be read twice if you want to catch everything. I always appreciate a novel that makes me think.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful writing. Here’s an example:
In my midnight midtown apartment, the demon of despair regards me in the red wink of my answering machine. Adam called again while I was out. I watch the diabolical electric blinking. Modernity is keen to alert us to what we’ve missed: calls, turns, TV programs. The city is ablaze with missed connections. I pull the blackout drapes closed against mine: Maria, Evie, Adam…
The names are also fun; I couldn’t help but notice that the mortals have religious names and the angels have names from literature. I can’t claim to have figured out why yet, but it’s yet another thing my brain is buzzing about…