Written by: Mack Moyer
I don’t care about dead children.
Wait, that sounds bad. What I meant to say is that I don’t care about fictional dead children for whom, emotionally speaking, I am not invested.
In Fall, Leaves, Fall, author Mike Driver assumed I would care. Due to this assumption, I slogged through 270 pages of not-quite-murder-mystery. More like, everybody seems to have these useful nuggets of info the protagonist wants but choose not to tell him.
It’s also not a mystery. If my wife asks me which of the dogs shat on the carpet and I refuse to tell her, it’s not a mystery. I’m just being a twat for not letting her know.
Yes, even if I lean in real close and say, “You’re digging too deep! You’re stirring things up! You don’t belong here!”
Our hero Bridge, a slacker who goes back to his hometown while enjoying the last of his unemployment benefits, hears that and more when he brings up the death of his childhood friend, Pete. Only Bridge isn’t digging too deep at all. He asks rudimentary questions. In response, everyone – including his childhood friends and even his dad – offer him cryptic allusions or, barring that, just lie to his face for reasons that, when made clear, seem pretty stupid.
Nobody tells Bridge what he needs to know because if he did know the book would have been over way earlier.
See, a mentally incompetent man named Grady supposedly killed Pete and a buncha other kiddies and was apprehended due to Bridge’s witness statement. But was it really Grady? Do I care?
Not particularly, because Driver never lets us connect with any of the killer’s victims. It’s that annoying fiction trope coming to the fore once again: It’s a kid, so I’m supposed to give a shit.
Again, I do not. In fact, when I watch The Walking Dead I actively root for the baby to die because cute little babies in fiction are usually just MacGuffins that poo themselves. The kids in Fall, Leaves, Fall serve even less of a function. They’re just background fodder that we never learn anything about save for Pete, whom we meet in a flashback or two, but it’s not enough.
A third strike for Leaves is the head-scratchingly random behavior of supporting character, and Bridge’s buddy, Eddie. Eddie flips from a slightly douchey-but-lovable former fat kid who invites Bridge out for beers to, quite suddenly, an almost unhinged, chain-smoking, bug-eyed weirdo who’s totally hostile to his old friend (until he’s not).
Initially I thought it was some kind of PTSD or mental condition, but I wouldn’t buy that. I’ll put my money on Occam’s Razor: I think the author just flipped Eddie’s personality out of convenience to serve a weak plot.
The novel is competently written, from a grammatical standpoint, for the most part. There are some hiccups but I’ve come to expect them with self-published work.
But the writing mechanics aren’t the issue. Even if Driver’s prose was sterling – which it isn’t – it wouldn’t make a difference because the story’s driving force is flimsy.
If you’re going to try to get me to care about the characters you’re killing, yes, even children, then let me get to know them first. Had I cared about any of these faceless tykes, I might have overlooked the novel’s other problems.
Follow Mack Moyer on Twitter. He tweets usually while drinking and sometimes inquires about the Pope’s yellow teeth.