Cannonball Read IV: After the Leaves Fall by Nicole Baart
There is a nasty betrayal a reader feels when discovering that a work they once enjoyed is not fact but fiction. Reading After the Leaves Fall I was afflicted with such a feeling and that was my own fault. Whether I read a misleading blurb somewhere or I confused a description for this book with that of another, I can't say. I can only remember that I thought I would be reading a heartbreaking memoir with lush descriptions, which did turn out to be half true, at least. There really were amazing descriptions of surroundings and awful feelings of grief and regret, but it did start to get old. Too much of a unique thing turned weird and gimmicky by the end.
I suppose this is where I need to add the disclaimer that this is a faith-based book (aka something I would never knowingly pick up), a work of complete fiction and that my feelings of betrayal when discovering both when about three quarters of the way through the book probably did taint my opinion, but I did try to get over my instant knee-jerk reaction as I continued reading. As a Catholic-raised agnostic, it was easy to identify with the main character, Julia DeSmit's loss of faith, but the way the book concluded was quite unbelievable. Where faith might have provided some explanation for a reader who had any, I lack that completely and found the ending quite sappy and too easily won.
Back to the actual content of the book, the first half reads like a bunch of heartbreaking but distinctly separate short stories about the loss of both of her parents (not a spoiler, I promise). Julia looks back on her life with a clear perspective that the benefit of hindsight can provide. The sort-of-omniscience made sense at the time. When that started to carry over to the second half of the book, which switched perspectives to a more-recent-past tense, telling the story as it happened, as she enrolled in college and experienced things there, it didn't make sense. This girl was learning who she was, faltering and fumbling along, but could describe things with such clarity that it felt like the author had stepped too far into Julia's shoes, speaking for her instead of letting her tell the story, as she had been.
In one of the final chapters, when Julia was still telling the story, yet was also able to describe the thoughts and feelings of another character, that was the last straw for me. Even if I hadn't been frustrated by finding out I was reading a book about faith, and a fictional one at that, the inconsistency would have irked me. I don't mind strange narrators or even all-knowing asshole characters if the story is good, it's the inconsistency that bothered me. I want to believe that I would have kept on enjoying the book if the writing hadn't changed, even with the annoyance of finding out that it was fictional and was about faith and religion, but you can go ahead and take that with a grain of salt.
And it turned out that this is the beginning of a series. As much as I would like to complete the series for closure's sake, because I am a crazy closure-needing freak, I definitely won't. In the end, I wasn't interested in Julia or the story she began telling halfway through the book. If you are religious and find faith-centered stories fulfilling, the story might overcome the flaws in the writing for you, but I was irritated by both and I would definitely avoid this author in the future. But the beginning was so good! Gah. It just wasn't for me.
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This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.
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