*Trigger warning – this review contains extreme adult themes – NWS*
We’ll All Fall Down, by John duVal, has all the ingredients for a thrilling read: mobsters, murders, mystery, speakeasies, World War II, and a dysfunctional family. The story spans many years and the twists and turns never end. Klaus Altman, a mafia accountant, is being forced by the government to testify against the mob boss in Philadelphia. To keep the witness safe, his name is changed to Max Anders and he moves to upstate New York.
Galena Baldwin is fourteen and when she sees Max for the first time she falls madly in love. Max, a gay man, isn’t interested in the young woman. However Galena won’t be denied. After she is raped by Steve Bragg she finds out she’s pregnant. She traps Max into marrying her by stating if he doesn’t she’ll tell the authorities that he’s an abuser. Her son, Erik, is born and right from the start Galena hates him. In fact she tells her stepfather to drown Erik, but Galena’s best friend, Marion, saves the baby.
How will Galena, Max, and Erik survive not only their dysfunctional family, but World War II and the Korean War? And the mob hasn’t forgotten about Max and for years they continue to search for the accountant.
This is a dark story and it’s hard to like any of the characters. At first readers may feel for Galena and Erik, but as their personalities develop it’s difficult to like them and to understand their motives.
The author’s handling of the never ending violence and abuse makes for difficult reading. At the age of fourteen Galena is raped. Then she takes a brick and bashes her attacker in the head. Right afterwards she wanders back into a speakeasy and she tries talking to her best friend, Marion, about the attack. Marion says she doesn’t want to hear “the gory details.” Then they approach the bar and Galena says, “Isn’t Champaign [sic] what rape victims drink to celebrate?”Later in the novel Galena masturbates while remembering the rape.
Erik, a gay man, is also raped in the novel by two men. During the assault, Erik says to one of his attackers,
“I like it hard, Daddy,” I say. “Make me cry.”
The author’s attitude towards rape might be difficult for some to take. In the story, Erik likes rough sex. But consensual rough sex and rape are two different things for most readers. And it’s hard to imagine a young woman wanting a glass of bubbly to celebrate being raped and then masturbating years later while reliving being raped. Of course everyone is different and how they react to situations is dependent on the individual. However, readers, especially ones who have been sexually assaulted, may question how Galena and Erik handle the acts of violence.
The subject matter isn’t the only difficulty for readers. This novel needs to be edited. There are way too many errors. Complicating matters, the author switches point of view frequently and the constant head-hopping is confusing. Sometimes the reader has to jump ahead several lines to figure out which character is narrating.
Another puzzling aspect is that there are only three chapters in a novel that’s over 200 pages. The author follows the characters for decades, but it’s difficult to follow the progress since the author jumps from one character to the next and from one event to the next.
It would be beneficial for the author to work with an experienced editor who isn’t afraid to tell the author that changes should be made. Eliminate the head-hopping, fix the pacing of the story, and get rid of all the pesky errors. These fixes would make the reading much more enjoyable. The story has the key ingredients for a fascinating, albeit dark, read and it would be a shame if the author ignored the flaws that need to be addressed.