Friday, November 2, 2012

Ryan Quinn writes a college novel like no other.

I am not sure where I read a review of this wonderful novel, but I remember hesitating before I opened it.  Was I sure I wanted to read a novel about college.  Well, I should never have hesitated.  This is a great book.

The Fall

Ryan Quinn’s debut novel The Fall  (336 pages, Amazon Encore, $14.95) tells the story of half a dozen undergraduates in a distinguished liberal arts college in the East.  It doesn’t take Ryan Quinn long to engage us in the fate of his characters, and in fact, their crises are neither unusual nor unexpected.  But he tells the tale in such a way that even the simplest events take on unexpected significance.

Quinn uses a specific technique of presentation for each of the three major characters.  Casey, a star of the football team and a pre-med student, keeps a running account of his activities on Facebook, and these are used to introduce the chapters that are told from Casey’s point of view.  His friend Ian, who was on the high school football team with him but has now moved to tennis as a sport, has aspirations to go to film school, and his chapters are introduced with the kinds of scene descriptions used in screenplays.

The third central character is Haile, who has come to this college to escape from the life of demanding achievement, at Julliard, and crushing concerts, with a string quartet—she plays the violin—and now she hopes to find her own voice as a songwriter and performer.  Her chapters start off with review-like headlines, right from the world in which she hopes to project herself.

But these characters are all twenty years old, and their confused aspirations, their pulsing hormones, and the awkward attempts at social interaction mean that they all have a lot to learn.  For Casey, that means moving on past his sorority-cum-cheerleader type girlfriend and also facing squarely his aspiration for playing professional football.

Ian's challenge is more complicated, not only because he is dealing with questions of sexuality and recognizing that he needs to accept himself as gay, but also because his famous football coach father has moved to the college to save the season when a coach leaves mid-season.  This means that Ian has to work out issues with his father right when he is trying simply to discover himself.

Haile confronts her own demons in the practice rooms and attempts to be creative as she suppresses everything she knows as a performer.  Her challenge is to step out from the shadow of her domineering mother, who has managed her performance career and now disapproves vehemently to her escape from the bight lights.

In addition, these characters are coping with their own desires as friends and lovers, to each other but also to a rich cast of characters who take the same classes, play on the same teams, or work at the same campus jobs.

Two faculty members also emerge from the crowd: a charismatic art teacher who moves the students to confront whatever is most meaningful to them; and a music teacher, who knows talent when she sees it and allows students to discover for themselves where their talent lies.  These professors are played off again each other as the crisis of the story builds, but it is really the students and their rich process of self discovery that makes this novel so powerful.

I recommend it without reservation.

Ryan Quinn

The Fall is available at Powell's and Amazon.

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