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Falling Dark

Falling Dark

by Tim Tharp
Falling Dark chronicles a cross-section of 1960s idealists and fallen dreamers. Still reeling from the violent death of her husband, Donna Bless is often too drunk to maintain the barest semblance of her former life, leaving her two boys to fend for themselves. She then takes up with Roy Dale, a boastful shell of a man who seems chivalrous but isn't. Tim Tharp's tale


Falling Dark chronicles a cross-section of 1960s idealists and fallen dreamers. Still reeling from the violent death of her husband, Donna Bless is often too drunk to maintain the barest semblance of her former life, leaving her two boys to fend for themselves. She then takes up with Roy Dale, a boastful shell of a man who seems chivalrous but isn't. Tim Tharp's tale opens darkly, yet points to the possibility of redemption.

Editorial Reviews

Richard Dyer
Tim Tharp's Falling Dark is a version and a vision of pastoral. It is not an idealized pastoral of the past, even the recent past, though a young boy in a small Oklahoma town dreams of visiting a farm, and a friend of his, a young African-American boy, does go to visit relatives who live on a farm.

The town has a past you can glimpse beyond the blacktop and the neon detritus of ''civilization.'' Once, 20 years ago, there was a commune where the Sunshine People expected to find themselves in nature and nature in themselves. It didn't work out that way; only an old geodesic dome still stands, down by the pond on Sam Casey's place.

Life is rough and limited in this part of the world. The Git-N-Go sign shines on, and there's a Dairy Queen, a gas station, some sagging rent houses, a bar, a pizza palace, and a lot of broken dreams.

Donna Bless works checkout at the grocery store. Since her husband was gunned down by some crazy teenagers, she's been trying to hold things together for her two sons, Wesley and Nelson, boys who haven't been spoiled yet by the world they're in. It's an uphill battle: Donna has a generous heart, but she also has a problem. Despite her best intentions, she drinks way more than a little bit too much. A friend says, coaxingly, ''One little beer never did anybody any harm.'' ''`I don't know,' Donna said. But she did know. She knew all about it.''

The friend's efforts to fix Donna up with a new man end up in an attempted rape. She is rescued by Roy Dale, who is not exactly a knight in shining armor; he moves into her life, and she accepts him there because she's lonely, but the situation is no good, and she knows it.

Roy is a drifter and a liar and, it turns out, a smalltime drug dealer. There's a sizable marijuana crop growing out there at Sam's, and Roy isn't above stealing some of the stash and taking it in his pickup to Tulsa to do some business.

Other characters who come into the story include Sam's daughter Melinda and Melinda's friend Jennifer, who is a wild one, out of control, and it turns out she has plenty of reason to be. ''`You know, it's like I said,' Melinda observes, `she's the oldest friend I have and my father always told me you have your regular family and then you have the one you find along the way and that's how it is with Jennifer and me. She might not always act like I think she should, and I'll let her know it, too, but I'm still going to try to be the same kind of friend I'd want for myself.'''

Melinda is a good person in an environment that doesn't seem to care one way or the other about anything good. Wesley and Nelson are good, too, and in different ways, Sam and Donna, who have seen a lot more of life, are still trying to be good. It's a struggle, as even the pure of heart learn. Ragel, the black boy, tells a kid on a minibike who wants to beat him up, ''You know what's the matter with you. ... People treat you like trash, and so you have to go around treating other people like trash. My daddy told me about that, he told me all about what makes people like you.'' Even little Nelson has a bedtime epiphany. ''Nelson lay his head back on the pillow then and that was something he never knew. He never knew how you could grow up to understand the world less than you did before.''

The author understands the world and this particular place very well. Tharp grew up in Henryetta, Okla., and (according to a brief biography printed at the end of the book) explored the United States by thumb and pickup truck before experimenting with a variety of jobs. Now, he teaches at Oklahoma State University in Okmulgee.

Falling Dark won Milkweed Press's national fiction prize, and it deserves to. Tharp is an economical writer, uncannily sensitive to the poetry of ordinary speech, but never soft at the center. He makes the reader slow down and listen. Donna ''pictured Sam Casey again, the way she had done since seeing him on her front porch that night, standing there half-turned, like a door that was just opening in front of her.'' That kind of precise language recalls some of the miracles in the early work of Larry Woiwode, a writer of a different region.

When, finally, Tharp writes about hope, as writers of pastoral always do, you have to believe him, because he knows all there is to know about despair.
Boston Globe

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in the early '70s in a rural Oklahoma town, Tharp's first novel attempts to capture the gritty backlash against '60s hippie idealism. Sam Casey's farm was founded as a Walden-inspired commune, complete with geodesic dome, but has deteriorated into a small-time marijuana operation. Donna Bless, the mother of two teenage sons, Nelson and Wesley, has crumbled into alcoholism (and men's beds) since her husband was murdered by marauding teens, a night that sensitive young Nelson painfully remembers. With a dirty mouth and an opportunistic streak, chronic troublemaker Roy Dale brings these two worlds into head-on collision, seducing Donna with a six-pack in the back of his truck and putting her boys to work selling some of Sam's crop. Teenage love, small-town blues and neighborhood bullies flourish amid the strip joints, honky-tonks, gas stations and the Git-n-Go convenience store. Trapped in their weaknesses, steeped in marijuana-haze and rum-and-coke stupors, Tharp's characters seem primed to convey philosophical reflections on self-destruction and recovery, but when he pushes the story into a brawling face-off and comes up with a picturesque ending, the characters' scrappy charm fades. Tharp's prose style, too, may be problematical for the reader. Searching for novelty in syntactical unconventionality, he blends dialogue with third-person narration and deliberately blurs the line between a character's speech and internal thoughts. Though the device adequately weaves together the characters' actions and motives, it often seems an affectation. This novel about diminished expectations commands full attention, however, when it leaps into a kind of transcendent faith. When young Nelson defies racist bullies who malign one of his friends, the scene is all the more poignant for its hardscrabble setting. (Oct.) FYI: Tharp's novel is the winner of the 1999 Milkweed Fiction Prize. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rambling but interesting debut (winner of the Milkweed National Fiction Prize) about a troubled family that comes under the influence of a drifter and his drug-dealing boss. Single mothers can't ever expect to have an easy time of it, but single mothers who drink too much have to be prepared for the worst. Donna Bless tries hard to do right by her boys Nelson and Wesley, but she's basically a party girl at heart and can't resist an evening (maybe even a whole night) at a local honky-tonk whenever the opportunity presents itself. One of her partners in crime is a strange, charismatic barfly named Roy Dale, who steps in one evening when a local cowboy comes on too strong after the third beer and won't take no for an answer. Roy flattens the sap with a single punch, then offers Maggie a chaser. The result: she falls for him head over heels. Roy offers Wesley a job working on his friend Sam Casey's farm, good money for outdoor work in the boy's spare time. The Casey spread was at one time a full-fledged commune and is still pretty weird to this day. Nothing much grows there but marijuana, though there's enough of that to keep everyone busy and ensure that Sam stays in the black. Sam himself is a decent sort, somewhat addled but humane. Roy, however, turns out to be a good deal less benign than he first appeared. For one thing, he's a thoroughgoing lush, and he's quickly becoming a kind of surrogate father to the boys. Maggie worries about his influence on them, but she herself has become so entwined in his world of drink and drugs that she doesn't know how to get out. Can will power and mother's love overcome ordinary human weakness? Even when it's overlaid with addiction? Badlyorganized and far too loose, but Tharp's debut has a poignancy and grace that gets it over the bumps on its way: Worth a look.

Product Details

Milkweed Editions
Publication date:
Milkweed National Fiction Prize Series
Edition description:
First Paperback
Product dimensions:
5.46(w) x 8.46(h) x 0.84(d)

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