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3.0 out of 5 stars "Everything will work out for you", Sept. 9 2009
This review is from: Fall (Hardcover)
Focusing on St. Ebury a small and exclusive private school in the town of Sutton, Canada examines the lives of two friends, particularly the introverted Noel, whose father is a diplomat stationed in Australia and Julius, a jocular personality, popular with the girls and who has come to the school from the United Sates. As the boys share a room together, Noel becomes obsessed with Julius and his larrikin ways, even their new friends seem Chuck and Ant seem to follow Julius, their putative leader, as Julius begins to cross the line, playing rebellious jokes on the other students, drinking and partying while constantly wrestling with blinding hangovers. Julius is the more extravert but he possesses more of a conventional nature than the far more reserved Noel. Still it doesn't take long for the two to form a strong friendship lifting weights together and sharing intimacies about their lives deep into the night as Julius lies on the top bunk-bed while Noel surrenders to the bottom. All too soon their room becomes a refuge created by Julius, a place where for a while, Noel could be himself more than anywhere else in the world.

This is Noel's "time of evolution" and a Christmas trip to Australia firmly cements his growth as an independent spirit as a man. Ensconced in his parents palatial residence, it is the heat and ash of the Sydney bushfires that create some sort of reaction on him, a catalyst like constant lightening. When he falls into a friendship with Meg, a local girl, whom he never hears from again, he gains strength from that summer, laboring in "the chill of things being deliberately ignored." Back in Canada Noel sees Julius as ever more a confidante and a protector. What is so appealing to him about Julius is his strange oblivious to the world, which somehow draws the world to him. Content to let things happen at calm pace, but being privy to his secrets, Noel is there in that private space with him reveling in the feelings of friendship and roommates who shower together even as they become "secret sharers, a united front against the troubles of the world."

Julius loves the dark-haired beauty named Fallon, "Fall" But Noel also has eyes for Fall, which soon transforms into a hungry curiosity and Noel soon wants to be absorbed and transformed in her mind into something calm. Julius's casual girlfriend, almost jealous of Julius because his easy sexual confidence he's the one who is most likely to get what he wants. After talking to her for the first time, Noel becomes somewhat emboldened and is more at ease with showing her who he is. Noel sees the way she flirts with other guys. Her manner and her openness, her willingness to be with other guys. Julius clearly loved Fall, yet much of the drama comes from Noel's gradual hints of annoyance that Julius could not possibly know love when love is what he felt for her.

In short sentences, in a stream-of-consciousness style McAdam revels in Julius's crass intimacies he could never bear and ever quite believe. Then Fall - who throughout remains an elusive and mysterious figure - goes missing. Has she moved to New York, gone away with her mother, or perhaps eloped with a secret boyfriend? While Noel steadily becomes obsessed with all of the evasion and avenues of escape, a search party is organized by the community and the police where it was assumed that if Fall had been abducted there might be local clues - an earring resting in the snow by the road.

McAdam layers his drama with unanswered questions, the layers of ambiguity cloaking the lives of Noel and Julius, both becoming suspects in her disappearance. Certainly Julius wants to follow her to some uncharted place in the world. Although the novel seethes with an instinctual tension reminiscent of Donna Tart's Secret History, there's not much to like here. Julius and Noel just aren't that compelling, more irritating than likable. While Noel thinks of himself as detached and bookish, a sort of precociously wise fringe-dweller who could be save from the world though cunning and evasion, Julius remains the "he man" getting off on antisocial behavior; he's indiscreet, but basically harmless, if profoundly stupid and completely unaware of the particular malice that seems to be germinating in Noel. Neither character is particularly memorable or likable - even their friends Ant and Chuck are blank slates, coming across merely ciphers for all of Julius's tiresome juvenile antics. Other characters move through the narrative: Fall's wealthy, self-absorbed mother and then William, Julius's chauffeur who lends his car to Julius and who may hold the key to Fall's disappearance. Yet most of what happens in this novel is shrouded in ambiguity and haziness. McAdam's style is sometimes elegant and evocative - the stifling Sydney summer is brilliantly portrayed and beautifully juxtaposed with the hard cold winters of Canada, fully intuiting Noel's inner angst and Julius's insecurities. Throughout, Noel seems intent to be a passive aggressor more concerned with his reputation with the school authorities and the police until his final devastating confrontation with Julius where the friendship faces its ultimately and is physically and emotionally buried for all time. Mike Leonard September 09.
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