The epigraph to WHILE I’M FALLING, taken from J. K.
Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard University in 2008,
perfectly sums up the theme of the novel: “There is an expiry
date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong
direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel,
responsibility lies with you.” In this, Laura
Moriarty’s third work of fiction, Rowling’s words come
to life both literally and figuratively, as Veronica Von Holten
feels her whole life --- not to mention a borrowed Mini Cooper ---
veer out of control.
Although most of the events of WHILE I’M FALLING happen
during one pivotal week in Veronica’s life, they have their
genesis earlier that year, when her seemingly happily married
parents file for divorce after her mother sleeps with an itinerant
handyman. Veronica, a pre-med student at Kansas University, is
stunned by this tidal wave in her usually placid life, but her life
at school usually serves as a useful distraction from her
parents’ problems (except when she learns that
divorce-induced money problems require her to work in the dorm as a
resident advisor, a job she both despises and is bad at).
That is, until the winter of her junior year, when all the
crises in Veronica’s small world manage to come to a head in
the course of a single terrible week. Feeling stifled by an
impending Organic Chemistry exam, her insular dorm life, and her
boyfriend’s suggestion that she move in with him, Veronica
leaps at the opportunity to housesit for a weekend, especially when
it means the use of the owner’s car. Never mind that the
homeowner is a truly scary individual named Jimmy, who makes thinly
veiled threats about what will happen to Veronica if anything
happens to his townhouse, his car, or his extremely expensive wine
collection. Veronica is eager to taste freedom for the first time
in recent memory.
But freedom is the last thing on Veronica’s mind when, in
the wake of a notorious Midwestern ice storm, she wrecks
Jimmy’s car, setting off a cascading series of disasters that
leave her grades, her relationship and even her personal safety in
tatters. And when Veronica’s mother shows up at her
daughter’s dorm room with surprising, heartbreaking news of
her own, Veronica starts to realize that this might be an
opportunity for both of them to make new, more adult choices in the
wake of some pretty childish behavior. Moriarty continues to
explore relationships between mothers and daughters, as she has
done in her previous novels, THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING and THE REST
OF HER LIFE.
Here, Moriarty cleverly parallels Veronica’s story with
that of her mother, Natalie, as both women struggle to get their
lives back on track and define their futures on their own terms.
Most of the novel centers on Veronica’s escalating crises,
told through the college student’s occasionally petulant,
sometimes naïve and completely convincing voice. A handful of
chapters, however, offer glimpses into Natalie’s point of
view, as readers come to discover not only the story behind her
divorce but also the stakes involved with the kinds of choices
Veronica is just beginning to make.
WHILE I’M FALLING takes place over the course of just a
few days, a condensed time frame that grants the novel additional
intensity. Readers, too, will want to absorb the book in a
concentrated period of time, as they find themselves absorbed in
both Veronica and Natalie’s stories, desperately hoping, just
as the two women do, that they somehow will find a way to make
everything OK --- or maybe even better than that.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 24, 2011
While I'm Falling