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Falling Through the Earth: A Memoir

Falling Through the Earth: A Memoir

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by Danielle Trussoni

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One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year

A daughter's unforgettable memoir of her wild and haunted father, a man whose war never really ended.

From her charismatic father, Danielle Trussoni learned how to rock and roll, outrun the police, and never shy away from a fight. Spending hour upon hour trailing him around


One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year

A daughter's unforgettable memoir of her wild and haunted father, a man whose war never really ended.

From her charismatic father, Danielle Trussoni learned how to rock and roll, outrun the police, and never shy away from a fight. Spending hour upon hour trailing him around the bars and honky-tonks of La Crosse, Wisconsin, young Danielle grew up fascinated by stories of her dad's adventures as a tunnel rat in Vietnam, where he'd risked his life crawling head first into narrow passageways to search for American POWs.

A vivid and poignant portrait of a daughter's relationship with her father, this funny, heartbreaking, and beautifully written memoir, Falling Through the Earth, "makes plain that the horror of war doesn't end in the trenches" (Vanity Fair).

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The affection, respect, and humor [Danielle Trussoni] brings to the task of revealing this complicated individual [her father] is testimony both to her creative abilities and to the generosity of her spirit.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Vivid and engrossing . . . a wonderfully complex and penetrating book. This is an accomplished debut from a writer with many talents.” —Chicago Tribune

“A richly textured history and timely reminder that a war's victims aren't limited to those in uniform nor demarcated by geography.” —Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead

“A heartbreaking story of missed connections . . . this excellent memoir is much more than the sum of its parts.” —People (four stars)

“Powerful . . . Her book is a captivating triumph.” —The Capital Times (Wisconsin)

“In the hard-hitting and affectionate Falling Through the Earth, Danielle Trussoni, whose father was never able to shed his memories of Vietnam, traces how trauma is passed from generation to generation.” —Vogue

“A rich vein of material, and [Trussoni's] handling of it is deft . . . A moving memoir that flows like the best fiction but that has the punch of real life.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Trussoni's memories of a hard-knocks childhood are vivid and spiky, and she relays her father's war stories with convincing bravado.” —Boston Sunday Globe

“Trussoni has taken an extended trip to hell and come back with treasures from that drunken, burning, broken place. She writes of the effects of war, the ‘pity of war, and the pity that war distills' without a hint of self-pity, with surprising humor, disarming candor, a hard-won wisdom and with uncannily sure-footed prose. Even if this book were not urgently important and devastatingly timely, I'd still urge you to read it for the sheer triumph of the author's gift.” —Alexandra Fuller, author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

“Danielle Trussoni unflinchingly explores a daughter's love for her flawed father and confronts the demons that haunt them both. Falling Through the Earth is tender and tough, harrowing and triumphant.” —Jeanette Walls, author of The Glass Castle

“Like the fearless father she takes after, Danielle Trussoni tunnels at her story from both ends: Through the rabbit hole of childhood, she explores a tumultuous divorce. From the trench of adulthood, she leads us through a country still poisoned by war. But Falling Through the Earth has an innermost chamber. It is a place of profound depth and beauty, where Trussoni unearths Trussoni herself.” —Koren Zailckas, author of Smashed

“A superb memoir. Trussoni has composed a modern-day father-quest true-life story and by doing so she has bridged the gap between those who fought in the Vietnam War and those who grew up in the following decades. . . . A captivating triumph.” —The Capital Times (Madison, WI)

“A sweet and sad and sturdily honest memoir–a triumph of the genre that's lately been under siege because of James Frey's fabrications.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“An extremely engaging, novel-like narrative that leaves an indelible imprint on the heart and mind.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Trussoni has written a hell of a good memoir. Seamlessly combining memories of her Dad's inept parenting with his Vietnam stories (and her own from a recent trip), Trussoni vividly depicts the violence that was can do to veterans' families, but she also shows how easy it is to love a bad father. But Falling through the Earth is not merely tragic: It's also vicious, unsentimental, and often quite funny. One of the best portrayals in recent memory of what it's like to grow up in a screwed-up, working-class family.” —Booklist (starred review)"

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Winter of '85, and we were on the run.

Dad veered the truck into an alley, cut across a parking lot, and merged with traffic running alongside the frozen Mississippi. "Cops don't come down this road," he said, checking the rearview mirror. "If they're here, it's because they followed us." My father was prone to paranoia, but the police were real. We'd been picked up twice for drunk driving that year. After the last arrest, he'd lost his license. We tried to keep a low profile, but the cops knew our truck and where we lived—Those sons-of-bitches got nothing to do but bother hardworking taxpayers. Faster, faster we drove. If they caught us again, Dad would go to jail.

Streets expanded before us, eerie and lonesome. Salt and steel-link tire chains had beaten the snow thin. Pawnshops and motels and tattoo parlors fell away as we passed. I unrolled my window. The city was cold and sharp-angled, as if emerging from a block of ice. I couldn't help but wish for spring. If it were warm, we could escape on a riverboat. We could float past Illinois and Missouri, down south to Louisiana. But it was deep winter, the river frozen, and the only hope for a quick getaway was the ironwork bridge that scaled out to Minnesota. I stared at it as we drove past, my vision ribboning its girders. Dad looked over his shoulder, listening for sirens.

My father was running from the police, from his first ex-wife, his creditors, and his dreams. He was running from his second ex-wife (my mother), his illegitimate children, and his past. He was running from himself, and I was right there with him, an eleven-year-old accomplice to his evenings of escape. I had been at his side for the last year, since my mother divorced us. Mom kept the house and my younger sister and brother; Dad kept me. No matter how far or fast we ran, I was there. I was all he had left.

We slowed down before Roscoe's, Dad's favorite bar, and parked near a set of rusty snow-packed railroad tracks. The lot was dim, as if seen through a starlight scope. Bleak electrocuted trees tangled before the buildings' brick façades. A blue boxcar had been abandoned mid-line, a pretty stranded Christmas present, but it wouldn't be long before an engine hooked it and trolled the freight to a warehouse beyond the city limits. Wisconsin winters were fierce. Nothing was left in the cold for long.

Dad locked his truck and walked ahead. Like most tunnel rats, he was a small man—only five feet eight inches and a hundred and fifty pounds—but quick. Impatient by nature, he always moved fast. I tried to match his pace, jogging to keep up. A neon beer sign blinked, sending chills of pink over his face. As he turned his head to light a cigarette, I saw myself in his olive skin, the hint of haughtiness in his profile. His eyes were deep brown, his face thin. He had lost his hair in his twenties, just after returning from Vietnam, a premature baldness that was beginning to look natural only now, as he neared forty. The empty nickel-hard sky bowled overhead, framing my father in a background of gray. He looked at me, his smile boyish, and pulled the door to Roscoe's open. "After you, Danielle-my-belle."

Roscoe's Vogue Bar was a mouthful, an unchewable four syllables. Everyone who was anyone called my father's favorite tavern Roscoe's or The Vogue. I called it Roscoe's. Rigid in this preference, I made fun of those regulars who called it The Vogue, finding it hilarious, with a preteen's sense of ruthless snobbery, that the worst-dressed women in America hung out at a place named after a slick fashion magazine. When I felt contentious (which, at eleven, was all the time), I told the women parked on their bar stools that they were looking very Vogue. That afternoon I said, "Barb, those Wranglers are great. Very Vogue." Barb tipped her beer my way and said, "You look beautiful too, smart-ass."

And she was right: I looked fantastic. My father had picked me up from school, and I hadn't had time to change. My uniform was a starched navy-blue skirt, white cotton blouse, and a stiff-necked navy-blue blazer, an ensemble I hated. I'd dressed it up with red knee socks and Doc Martens. I'd smeared on glittery eye shadow and purple lip gloss. My ears had been pierced five times; I'd written lyrics from my favorite songs (by semi-obscure and hundred-percent-depressing British bands) on my arms with red ink. I told myself that I was a post-punk rebel ready to take on the world, and it was true: I was ready to have a go at everyone, single-handedly. If it weren't for my name, people might have thought that Catholic school had done strange things to me. As it was, everyone in town knew I was Dan Trussoni's girl. This pedigree explained a lot.

During happy hour, Roscoe's was crowded. Drinks were cheap and the jukebox plugged with quarters. The way I remember it, Roscoe's was always the same—the barroom was packed (Dad and I had to squeeze onto our stools), the music played too loud, and I was forever a child, quick on my feet and dull to the truth that my father, with all his speed, could never outrun the past.

Dad ordered a round of drinks—brandy and Coke for him, a cherry Coke for me. He stubbed out his cigarette in a black plastic ashtray and lit another. My father had spent most of his adult life (aside from his tour in Vietnam) laying bricks, and his hands proved it; they were tumescent and covered with scars. The knuckles were cracked, as if cement had dried in the creases of his skin, splitting it. Dad worked harder than anyone else I knew—twelve—hour days in the summer, sometimes fourteen. When I was little, I would wait for him to come home from work and run down the driveway, meeting his truck at a gallop. I was his tag-along daughter, his dark-haired namesake, the shadow girl chasing after him wanting love, love, love. He would throw his toolbox in the garage, slap me on the back, and hit the shower. I would lean my head against the bathroom door, pressing my ear to the wood. He had not showered yet that day, and as we sat at the bar I wanted to take a toothpick from the dispenser and pry the pieces of coagulated concrete from his cuticles. I wanted to free his fingerprints of dirt.

I watched him, assessing his mood. When Dad was in high spirits, he was the most charismatic guy in the place. His buddies would walk by, shake his hand, tell him a joke, and ask how business was going. Drinkswould arrive, bought by women we'd never met before. He filled the room with his presence, wherever he went. But if my father was stuck thinking of my mother, he would be surly. He met my mother the year he came back from Vietnam, when he was wild and haunted. Maybe she liked that about him—how much he needed her. I've seen pictures of my parents taken the year I was born; they were holding hands and kissing, so in love it appeared nothing in the world could stop them. After Mom left, Dad became unrecognizable. He spent all his time at the bar, drinking from early afternoon until late in the night. When Dad got drunk, memories of Vietnam crept back on him. I never knew what had hurt him more, the war or my mother.

The drinks arrived as the jukebox came to life. Patsy Cline's soft voice filled the bar with sound. A row of taxidermy hung above the jukebox: a deer head, a beaver, and a sorry-looking turkey. My father sipped his brandy and Coke in silence, his gaze fixed on the turkey. After the second round, he squinted slightly, scanned the perimeter of the bar, tipping his Stetson to anyone who met his eye. Sometime between the third and fourth drink, he loosened up and began to talk. Not to me, exactly, although I was the only one listening. Dad didn't need me. He always went back to the war alone.

"Have I told you about the Vietcong prostitute and her mother?"

"No, Pop," I said, although I knew that he had.

"We were close to Cambodia, near the Black Virgin Mountain. We walked all day through the jungle, set up a perimeter, and the village girls hung around the concertina, watching as we dug in for the night. Smart little things, those girls were. They'd finish their work and then tell us they were giving the money to the Vietcong. We didn't care, though. They snuck around the concertina and into the perimeter all the time. This one slipped right into camp, slid under my poncho, and started doing her business. Usually, I would've just let her go about it, but I didn't have any cash, not even script, so I pushed her back. I said, No money. Them Vietnamese girls didn't know how to talk, but they knew the word money all right. The girl said, No money, this love, and went right on with what she was doing, which was fine by me. Who am I to argue with a free meal?"

"Not you," I said. By eleven, I thought I had seen and heard it all from Dad.

"No money, this love, the girl says, and that was that. It was near morningwhen we were done. She gets up to go and I see, by the perimeter, an old lady standing by. The girl's mother had been watching us, I guess. I feel creepy all of a sudden, like maybe I shouldn't be screwing her daughter for free. Sure enough, the girl starts asking for her money, making a big to-do. They'd probably planned it this way, because the old one starts in too, screeching like a duck about money, money, money. I didn't have a cent on me, so I took that girl and tossed her clear over the concertina, to her mama. The old lady got mad at that. She screamed louder, so I got my M-16 and pointed it right smack between her eyes. That shut her up quick. This one is for love, I said. This one's for love."

Dad told a lot of war stories, but there were a few he always returned to. When he'd had too much to drink, he would start complaining about the police, or the price of gas, and suddenly he would plummet into the jungles of Vietnam. A shadow would fall over his face, obscuring him from me, and I knew he had disappeared into the past. If I reached for his hand, it was rough and cold. He was no longer there.

When Dad spoke, the bar became quiet. Vines slithered up the bar stools; tunnels opened at our feet. And Tommy Goodman, my father's tunnel-rat friend, a man I had learned to imagine from Dad's war stories, pulled up a seat next to us and rested his head on the glossy surface of the bar. Glad you could make it, I imagined myself saying. But Goodman and my father never paid attention to me. Before I knew it, they would be gone, two boys headed out to the war. I trailed behind, mopping up blood with cocktail napkins.

FALLING THROUGH THE EARTH. Copyright © 2006 by Danielle Trussoni. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

Meet the Author

Danielle Trussoni, who grew up and now lives in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. On the strength of the first twenty pages she ever wrote (which became part of Falling Through the Earth) she was admitted to the Iowa Writers' Workshop from which she graduated in May 2002.
Danielle Trussoni grew up in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and now lives in New York City. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her books include the New York Times bestselling Angelology and Angelopolis, and the award-winning memoir about her father, Falling Through the Earth.

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Falling Through the Earth 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Story is chopped up, too many unanswered questions
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is at times painful to read but it is awesome. I feel a real connection to Danielle and the mother. I read a lot of books since I retired and this is by far the most heart felt in a long time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A page turner that makes you wonder how any human being can survive the psychological conflicts that war places on a soldier. It screams the need for good psychotherapy for all our veterans so they can recapture some quality of life.Having known the main character 22 years ago it certainly answers the questions I had about him. I have nothing but gratitude. He was the first person in my life that made me feel safe and empowered me to go on. Which is quite ironic when you read his story. We all cause damage and we all do good in our lives but we dont always know it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a decorated Vietnam-era navy vet (who never was in country) I've heard and read many stories of the soldiers and sailors who fought in America's longest war, so when I picked-up Falling, I expected little more than more of the same. Wrong. Ms. Trussoni stepped up to the plate, with the bases loaded with previous Vietnam-related books, and hit her pitch out of the park, literally bringing all those books home with her close-to-the-chest, deep-in-the-heart story of her home, where (and how) her Vietnam-vet father wrecked both love and havoc after returning. Sure, she went to the Iowa Writer's Workshop, and so you've got to expect a certain amount of talent, but a whole bunch of folk went to Iowa who haven't come into the major leagues like Trussoni has. I doubt you'll have a dry eye when you hear her father say Danielle-my-belle at the end. Right now, I imagine that her largest problem is following up. Give her a break, folks wait a while. Writing this must have been exhausting. She'll write her next book when she wants to write her next book. For now, enjoy Falling.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book describes the trauma children go through when adults mess up. While Dan Trussoni's problems are not all his own making he does not accept responsibility for finding solutions. His children bear the brunt of his war wounds, broken marriages, scurrilious affairs, and alcoholism. The book is a page turner and make me curious as to how his daughter (the author) was able to turn her life around. How a juvenile delinquent, so-so student, and neglected child went to college and honed her gift should be the subject of Danielle Trussoni's next book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Falling Through The Earth is a powerful memoir that brings to light the horrors of war and the demons that trail all soldiers even after the final shot is fired. Like Frank Nappi's chilling novel Echoes From The Infantry, the book takes the reader through various episodes of a daughter's miserable existence with a father who is mired grief and post traumatic stress. Although Trussoni lacks Nappi's artistry and command of the language, the book is certainly heartfelt and is worth reading. Both of these books are wonderful examples of what is sure to be the next genre in literature.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Please do not compare this book to ANY of Tim O'Brien's books about Vietnam. First of all, O'Brien has a style of writing that urges the reader to think more deeply about the impact of war and violence on the psyche of the soldier in combat. Further, he writes in a way that invites the reader to experience vicariously the grunt's physical struggle. Read the story 'The Things They Carried' or 'How to Tell a True War Story,' both from the book The Things They Carried. Falling Through the Earth is an autobiography whose writer has not yet developed a sense of style I was not connected to this story or its characters the way I have been to O'Brien's.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Falling Through the Earth is one of those books I would love to see made into a movie. Written along the lines of Before Women Had Wings, the book is a memoir of a young girl¿s experience with her father, a Vietnam Veteran, who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). It graphically portrays how PTSD can affect an entire family. The affect can be so traumatic to children that they sometimes also end up with symptoms of PTSD. The affects on the author are evident when she learns to hide her pain because of being disbelieved in the past by her father, when she complained of being ill. By eleven years of age she is delving into acts of self-harm. As an adult, in an attempt to understand her father, the author visits Vietnam. The book vacillates between her experience there and her childhood memories with her father. The author describes Vietnam/PTSD in a heart-rending paragraph (page 170) where she describes it as invading every part of her family¿s life, likening it to a physical presence, a ¿monster¿. The book has an important message, especially with so many veterans returning home from Iraq. I feel it would make a valuable gift for a veteran, or his/her family, who is suffering from PTSD but perhaps is unaware of it and how it, consequently, may be affecting other loved ones. The book is also a touching account of forgiveness, understanding and courage by a young girl who finds a way to have a good life in spite of her troubled beginnings in a dysfunctional home. I feel it offers hope to all of us who suffer from PTSD because of childhood trauma in a dysfunctional home. It is a valuable book in that it deals with combat-related PTSD and PTSD from family dysfunction. Patti Brown, member Gift From Within April 9, 2007