A few weeks ago, Emily Ruth Verona visited BiblioSmiles to share her thoughts on her first novel, which is set to publish on October 29th.
That first novel is Steady is the Fall, and I was lucky enough to receive an e-copy of Verona’s book in exchange for an honest review.
I’m familiar with Emily’s writing since we took some classes together during our time as undergrads at SUNY Purchase. For those of you who are not familiar with her writing, I find her voice to be accessible, honest, and eloquent. This style carries through the entirety of Steady is the Fall. Every word is important and every sentence is meticulously crafted, making Verona’s work a pleasure to read.
The cover of Verona’s novel evokes feelings of contemplation, and a little bit of unease. I found myself returning to the cover on more than one occasion while reading. (I’m normally all for saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but this cover is really well-matched to its contents.)
Larry used to say death ran in our family. When I would tell him that it ran in everybody’s he’d simply hunch forward, hold up a finger and shake his head. “Not like in ours,” he’d say, “Not like in ours.”
Steady is the Fall follows once-hopeful photographer Holly Dorren in the aftermath of her cousin Larry’s suicide. Larry was Holly’s closest friend, and the two were inseparable since childhood. When the two cousins were young, they were in a severe car accident that caused resentment between their families and ultimately jump-started Larry’s fascination with death. Why had they been spared? What was this thin line that separated living from dead?
As they grew up, Larry continued to fixate on the car accident and the fragility of human life. He attempts to take his own life on multiple occasions, which terrifies his friends and family and puts a strain on his relationships with them all. Holly’s loyalty to Larry is fierce, and she tries very hard to keep a grasp on her cousin.
Hence her brokenness at the start of the novel.
Larry is a central character in Steady is the Fall, yet he only lives in flashbacks and memories. We are only able to see Larry as Holly wants us, as the readers, to see him. Because of this, I found the way I connected to Larry to be an incredibly interesting experience. I felt distanced from him as a character, but I also felt Holly’s acute longing for him, and her defeat of having been left alone.
As a narrator, Holly pulled me into her headspace, and I found it very hard to shake her feelings when I would put the book down for the day. She is reflective, and moody, and numb with her grief. She’s having difficulty coping with her loss, and it affects how she interacts with her family, her friends, and her coworkers. She has little interest in her hobbies or in taking care of herself. She chooses to fixate on things that have little do with her life or her situation – she becomes obsessed with a laundromat that closes after a fire – and there’s something incredibly sad about that. There’s something incredibly real about that, too; Holly’s grief is understandable. Verona writes Holly Dorren’s sadness in a way that is startlingly real: it is raw, and it hurts to look at, but at the same time you can’t look away. This experience is further complicated by the fact that Holly’s nickname growing up is “Holly-full-of-holes.” How much of what she says is true, and how much is a fabrication? A lie?
Steady is the Fall has a handful of strong supporting characters. Holly’s relationship with Bryan, one of Larry’s college roommates, is fraught with drama and tension. Her relationship with her own brother, a seemingly-directionless young man taking on a big responsibility, was also incredibly interesting to me. I found Holly’s interactions with others to be intriguing, as they offered a glimpse of Holly outside of her own head: out in the world of the living.