My Canadian Fiction class with Brent Wood has produced some pretty challenging work. Not in terms of difficulty, but in terms of content. Falling Angels by Barbara Gowdy is easily one of the hardest books I’ve had to read during my university career.
The novel follows the lives of three sisters, Norma, Lou, and Sandy, as they cope with the atrocities life throws at them. Everything from an abusive father, sexual assault, an alcoholic mother, and even a scene where one of the sisters is sodomized by a nail in her youth—the novel doesn’t shy away from these events.
One of the admirable things Gowdy does with her story is create a narrative that’s relatable to young women. Gowdy exposes readers to the lives of a dysfunctional family, allowing us to sift through the chaos of their lives and attempt to make sense of it all. Every reader is given a different angle on tragedy, as we watch how the sisters grow up and develop with their own coping mechanism.
One of the best things about this novel is Gowdy’s ability to incorporate humour into the story. The humour offers readers a better chance to digest the material, while simultaneously reminding us that there is a time to laugh when everything around you seems to be crumbling.
Gowdy is a phenomenal writer. Her ability to capture the horrors of reality while maintaining humour speaks to her ability as an author. Her abilities also speak to readers; she puts everything on the table and doesn’t shy away from the truth. The trauma in Falling Angels punches readers in the gut. The book is reminiscent of the darkness many of us have had to face. Now, readers may not be able to relate to being sodomized by nails, but many women can relate to the three girls in one way or another.
Many people may have a hard time reading this novel. But I think it’s far more crucial to notice how the girls cope and live their lives. There are difficult scenes that will stick with us, but that’s the point. We continue to live our lives in spite of these horrors, and I think right there lies the importance of this story.
Falling Angels masterfully delves into the ways we continue moving forward after traumatic experiences. These are the events that have shaped us. Ultimately, we all find a way to overcome the demons in our past.