Fall on Your Knees

Fall on Your Knees

4.3 165
by Ann-Marie MacDonald
     
 

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Following the curves of history in the first half of the twentieth century, Fall on Your Knees takes us from haunted Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, through the battlefields of World War I, to the emerging jazz scene in New York City, and into the lives of four unforgettable sisters. The mythically charged family—James, a father of intelligence andSee more details below

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Overview

Following the curves of history in the first half of the twentieth century, Fall on Your Knees takes us from haunted Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, through the battlefields of World War I, to the emerging jazz scene in New York City, and into the lives of four unforgettable sisters. The mythically charged family—James, a father of intelligence and immense ambition; Materia, his Lebanese child-bride; and their daughters: Kathleen, the eldest, a beautiful talent preparing for a career as an opera diva; Frances, incorrigible liar and hell-bent bad girl; Mercedes, obsessive Catholic and protector of the flock; and Lily, the adored invalid who takes us on a quest for truth and redemption—is supported by a richly textured cast of characters. Fall on Your Knees is a story of inescapable family bonds, of terrible secrets, of miracles, racial strife, attempted murder, birth and death, and forbidden love.

Editorial Reviews

Rachel Stoll
At her brightest moments, when various cultures and voices clash and merge in a great rush of energetic prose, MacDonald nears Rushdie-like height.
San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle
Liesel Litzenburger
Fall on Your Knees does not disappoint; this is an ambitiously big story—refreshingly old-fashioned in its wide scope, the sheer number of central characters, and the tale's own epic-like complexity.
Detroit News Flash Free Press
Industries Staff Scosche
This big, bold, epic-shocker of a novel reads as if John Irving met Joyce Carol Oats in her Gothic.…It's a wild ride.
Chicago Tribune
Book of Books
By turns dark and hilariously funny, this stunning fiction debut by an award-winning writer and actor takes readers on a mystically charged journey spanning five generations of one family's sin, guilt, and redemption -- a narrative feast of racial strife, miracles, terrible secrets, and a passionate, enduring love.
Publishers Weekly
Not a single line is superfluous in this richly layered tale of the secrets within several generations of a Canadian family. Both feverishly intense and darkly humorous, the drama of the Piper family emerges amidst a backdrop of racial tension and social change in Canada during the first half of the 20th century. Piano tuner James Piper dotes on his beautiful and musically talented eldest daughter, Kathleen, almost to the exclusion of everyone else, including his Lebanese wife and his other daughters. After Kathleen's death during childbirth and his wife's suicide a few days later, James forbids any mention of Kathleen's name. But the bitter fruit of illicit passion will continue to take its toll on Kathleen's survivors. Though the mortality rate in this family sometimes challenges credibility, playwright and actress MacDonald's ambitious first novel displays a remarkable assurance of style, pacing and plotting as unexpected twists propel a complex story that builds inexorably to tragedy. MacDonald uses the surface tension and love between James and his daughters to explore the repercussions of repression, sin, guilt and violence that simmer beneath the family's delicately maintained equilibrium. Her gifts for character development, comic dialogue and vivid evocation of social milieu and specific background detail-from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, to New York City in the 1920s-add texture to an entrancing narrative. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternate selections; author tour. (Apr.) FYI: MacDonald began this book as a play but finished it five years later as her first work of fiction. Fall on Your Knees was previously published in Canada, where it rose to the top of the bestseller lists.
Philippa Gregory
A magnificent novel...[Fall on Your Knees] falls into the current traditions of a big story widely told, a story of historical change in a community of crime half-revealed through a family's memories and fearful secrets slowly revealed.
The London Sunday Times
Emma Perry
A phenomenal novel....These are the sorts of characters, both beautiful and ugly, who stay with you forever.
Time Out London
Kirkus Reviews
From award-winning Canadian actress and playwright MacDonald comes a full-bodied, ever-rolling debut, the story of a talented Cape Breton family with more than its share of repression and tragedy.

As the 19th century ends, young James Piper travels from the Breton hinterland to the civilized port of Sydney seeking his fortune, and in no time at all he acquires a child bride, a house built by his Lebanese father-in-law, and the everlasting enmity of his wife's powerful family. Although the ardor between James and his spouse soon cools, they now have a daughter, Kathleen, who seems destined for great things when her breathtaking voice and beauty begin to captivate all as she enters her teens. But another shadow falls on the family when James finds himself making improper advances to her. Appalled, he patches things up with his wife (two more daughters being the result), goes off to fight in WW I, and sends Kathleen to New York to study voice after he returns. All still isn't well, however, when she comes home pregnant six months later, then dies in childbirth when Mom slices her open to save her daughter's twins. One of them dies anyway, followed two days later by Mom, who commits suicide. James is left with three girls to raise, all of them scarred for life by the crisis: The newborn contracts polio when her aunt Frances, a child herself, tries to baptize her in a nearby creek; Frances is raped by James in his grief at losing Kathleen; the eldest, a witness to the rape, is also the one to find her mother's body. Such awful events, though quickly repressed, bode no good for the family, and ultimately tragedy overtakes them all.

A plate piled dangerously high with calamities, perhaps, but the time, place, and people—especially the children—all ring clear and true, making for an accomplished, considerably affecting saga.

From the Publisher
#1 National Bestseller
Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book
Oprah's Book of the Month Club Pick, January 2002
Winner of the Dartmouth Book Award
Winner of the Canadian Authors' Association Award
Winner of the CBA Libris People's Choice Award
Winner of the CBA Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year

Finals for The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Finalist for the Giller Prize
Finalist for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award
Finalist for the Trillium Book Award
Finalist for The Orange Prize for Fiction

"Magnetic… a dizzying leap into a mind so rich and complex you spend almost as much time marvelling how she got there as enjoying the results… Compelling and original… MacDonald succeeds brilliantly in building a world that, at least for the satisfying length of time it takes to finish Fall On Your Knees, gloriously supersedes all else." Financial Post

"Beautiful… this big, bold, epic shocker of a novel reads as if John Irving met Joyce Carol Oates. It is history told with a thumping, complex narrative… a host of colourful characters and a great big bow to psychology… Fall On Your Knees is the work of a big talent. It's a wild ride." Chicago Tribune

"[MacDonald is] a first-rate novelist.... [She] paints a Cape Breton landscape steeped in human emotion ... She has found the language of the heart that runs below everyday discourse.... There is no resisting this story." The Globe and Mail

"Ann-Marie MacDonald — one of Canada's most talented actors and playwrights — has provided us with yet another aspect of a talent that has no limits." Timothy Findley

"Brilliant... Profoundly and refreshingly different.... MacDonald has constructed a plot worthy of Victor Hugo... A standout." Vancouver Sun

"MacDonald is a master of exciting story-telling, of suspense and surprise." The Montreal Gazette

"... a narrative presence that can look at the unbearable, and sustain the emotion of it, and deliver it up edged in mordant wit."
—EDITOR'S CHOICE, Notable Books of 1996, The Globe and Mail

"... a multi-generational saga ... carried off with great assurance and style."
—Philip Marchand, CRITIC'S CHOICE, The Toronto Star

"... utterly compelling — a brilliant take on the black themes of racism, physical and emotional battery, sexual abuse, suicide, and murder."
The Vancouver Review

"Stunning...The book and the talent behind it are big. The story is riveting, the characters achingly human, and the writing will take your breath away...[MacDonald] has leapt into the first rank of fiction writers."
Toronto Star

"A delicious story, one of those sweeping family sagas to take on summer vacation and savor.... MacDonald is a master of exciting story-telling, of suspense and surprise. She has a dramatic touch that can elicit gasps from readers."
Montreal Gazette

"Not a single line is superfluous in this richly layered tale of the secrets within several generations of a Canadian family."
Publisher's Weekly starred review February 24th, 1997

"Here is an explosive mix of family feuds and incest, musical dreams and melodrama, all shot through with a fierce guilt... Fall On Your Knees is a heady, haunting brew, carefully structured, witty and distinctive."
The London Observer

"Some wonderful writing has come out of Canada in recent years from such authors as Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood. Now they are joined by the multi-talented Ann-Marie MacDonald... She is already a successful actress & playwright. It seems almost unfair that she should have written a brilliant first novel."
Sunday Telegraph

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780743237185
Publisher:
Touchstone
Publication date:
01/24/2002
Series:
Oprah's Book Club Series
Pages:
512
Sales rank:
411,379
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Silent Pictures

THEY'RE ALL DEAD NOW.

Here's a picture of the town where they lived. New Waterford. It's a night bright with the moon. Imagine you are looking down from the height of a church steeple, onto the vivid gradations of light and shadow that make the picture. A small mining town near cutaway cliffs that curve over narrow rock beaches below, where the silver sea rolls and rolls, flattering the moon. Not many trees, thin grass. The silhouette of a colliery, iron tower against a slim pewter sky with cables and supports sloping at forty-five-degree angles to the ground. Railway tracks that stretch only a short distance from the base of a gorgeous high slant of glinting coal, toward an archway in the earth where the tracks slope in and down and disappear. And spreading away from the collieries and coal heaps are the peaked roofs of the miners' houses built row on row by the coal company. Company houses. Company town.

Look down over the street where they lived. Water Street. An avenue of packed dust and scattered stones that leads out past the edge of town to where the wide, keeling graveyard overlooks the ocean. That sighing sound is just the sea.


Here's a picture of their house as it was then. White, wood frame with the covered veranda. It's big compared to the miners' houses. There's a piano in the front room. In the back is the kitchen where Mumma died.

Here's a picture of her the day she died. She had a stroke while cleaning the oven. Which is how the doctor put it. Of course you can't see her face for the oven, but you can see where she had her stockings rolled down for housework and, although this is a black and white picture, her housedress actually is black since she was in mourning for Kathleen at the time, as well as Ambrose. You can't tell from this picture, but Mumma couldn't speak English very well. Mercedes found her like that, half in half out of the oven like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. What did she plan to cook that day? When Mumma died, all the eggs in the pantry went bad -- they must have because you could smell that sulphur smell all the way down Water Street.


So that's the house at 191 Water Street, New Waterford, Cape Breton Island, in the far eastern province of Nova Scotia, Canada. And that's Ma on the day she died, June 23, 1919.


Here's a picture of Daddy. He's not dead, he's asleep. You see that armchair he's in? That's the pale green wingback. His hair is braided. That's not an ethnic custom. They were only ethnic on Mumma's side. Those are braids that Lily put in his hair while he was asleep.


There are no pictures of Ambrose, there wasn't time for that. Here's a picture of his crib still warm.


Other Lily is in limbo. She lived a day, then died before she could be baptized, and went straight to limbo along with all the other unbaptized babies and the good heathens. They don't suffer, they just sort of hang there effortlessly and unaware. Jesus is known to have gone into limbo occasionally and taken a particularly good heathen out of it and up to heaven. So it is possible. Otherwise....That's why this picture of Other Lily is a white blank.


Don't worry. Ambrose was baptized.


Here's one of Mercedes. That opal rosary of hers was basically priceless. An opal rosary, can you imagine? She kept it pinned to the inside of her brassiere, over her heart, at all times when she wasn't using it. Partly for divine protection, partly out of the convenience of never being without the means to say a quick decade of the beads when the spirit moved her, which was often. Although, as Mercedes liked to point out, you can say the rosary with any objects at hand if you find yourself in need of a prayer but without your beads. For example, you can say it with pebbles or breadcrumbs. Frances wanted to know, could you say the rosary with cigarette butts? The answer was yes, if you're pure at heart. With mouse turds? With someone's freckles? The dots in a newspaper photograph of Harry Houdini? That's enough, Frances. In any case, this is a picture of Mercedes, holding her opal rosary, with one finger raised and pressed against her lips. She's saying, "Shshsh."


And this is Frances. But wait, she's not in it yet. This one is a moving picture. It was taken at night, behind the house. There's the creek, flowing black and shiny between its narrow banks. And there's the garden on the other side. Imagine you can hear the creek trickling. Like a girl telling a secret in a language so much like our own. A still night, a midnight clear. It's only fair to tell you that a neighbor once saw the dismembered image of his son in this creek, only to learn upon his arrival home for supper that his son had been crushed to death by a fall of stone in Number 12 Mine.

But tonight the surface of the creek is merely as Nature made it. And certainly it's odd but not at all supernatural to see the surface break, and a real live soaked and shivering girl rise up from the water and stare straight at us. Or at someone just behind us. Frances. What's she doing in the middle of the creek, in the middle of the night? And what's she hugging to her chest with her chicken-skinny arms? A dark wet bundle. Did it stir just now? What are you doing, Frances?

But even if she were to answer, we wouldn't know what she was saying, because, although this is a moving picture, it is also a silent one.

All the pictures of Kathleen were destroyed. All except one. And it's been put away.


Kathleen sang so beautifully that God wanted her to sing for Him in heaven with His choir of angels. So He took her.

Copyright © 1996 by Ann-Marie MacDonald

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What People are saying about this

Rita Mae Brown
Fall on Your Knees proves that sisterhood is powerful—but not exactly as we thought it would be. It's a bit like performing the station of the cross to rock music.

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