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Flannery is immersed in the big read, Fall on Your Knees

Hello, fellow readers.

I've got a lot on my mind today. My overstuffed brain has everything to do with the fact that I am in the thick of Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees. Good reader that I try to be, I've been consistently dog-earing pages and making mental notes for days. Sadly, I can't really remember why I marked page 74, but I'm sure it will come to me eventually. (Mental note 1001: commit all future mental notes to paper.)

As you may have noticed, FOYK is a big book -- and in more ways than one. At just over 550 pages, it's the most sizeable book on our agenda. Content-wise, it's pretty heavy too. Of all the books we're considering, I'd have to say that FOYK gets the "most epic-feeling" award (doesn't that sound like the title for an MTV Movie Award?). It's not easy to make a family drama feel larger than life. But just as D.H. Lawrence did with his novel The Rainbow, and its sequel, Women in Love, MacDonald manages this feat. (If you love FOYK, you'll enjoy Lawrence's novels, post-Canada Reads, of course.)

As of today, I'm on page 298. One passage in my reading thus far has really stayed with me. The passage I'm talking about is on page 114. A little non-spoiler context: it concerns James Piper's return home from the carnage of the First World War.

"He is shipped home to be honourably discharged. No one can know how tired he is. He will be tired for the rest of his life."

Those three sentences have lingered with me, especially as I try to understand this complex figure. What relationship does James' unfathomable weariness have to what follows upon his return? Is it an adequate explanation for who and what he is? Or can we find some clue in his early childhood? I don't know the answer to that question. I'm not feeling too badly about coming up empty-handed though. The old nature vs. nurture debate has been raging for centuries. But it's got me thinking, nonetheless. The opening of the succeeding chapter offered more food for thought.

"A war changes people in a number of ways. It either shortcuts you to your very self; or it triggers such variations that you might as well have been a larva, pupating in dampness, darkness and tightly wrapped puttees... There's a simple but horrible explanation for this: you were born in the war. You slid, slick, bloody and fully formed out of a trench... The Great War was the greatest changer of them all."

Pre-war James is no saint. But post-war James is in an entirely new category of sinner. Is war entirely responsible for the evolution? Did it fatally tire his moral instinct? Or did experience simply activate some part of Piper's emotional and psychological DNA that was always present? I'm leaning toward the second interpretation. But so far it's just a lean. I won't plant my feet squarely in any camp. In some way, I think it's important to allow for both possibilities. Too strong a conviction in the influence of one over the other feels too much like determinism. (Can you tell I've been watching a lot of Lost, lately?)

As always, I'd love to hear what do you think. How are you responding to the character of James Piper? Comment here, or on the FOYK discussion board.

Meanwhile, keep reading.


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