Read a F*cking Canadian Book, Eh: Ann-Marie MacDonald’s “Fall On Your Knees”

Feature image via ‘Rainy Butterfly’ on fuckyeahgirlsreading.tumblr.com

Reading Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald will make you aware that you have a heart that is squishy and maybe a little too colourful; and like a glass of wine it can get broken into a million little pieces and make a big mess, spilling red.

Sirinthada.com

So, to help you be prepared to clean up this mess while staying sane throughout your Fall on Your Knees reading experience, I’ve made you a list of things to have on hand:

1. Your therapist on speed dial
2. A box of Kleenex for cleaning yourself up
3. Something soft to squeeze for comfort. Examples: a teddy bear, a kitten, a boob, an afro.

Before you begin this book, I should also warn you that it will wreak havoc on your social life. Seriously. First off, it’ll significantly decrease your good looks. You’ll get dark circles under your eyes from staying up reading. No matter how many times it breaks your heart you will keep coming back to this goddamn book. You’ll find yourself awake and emotionally broken at three in the morning. Also, you may forget to wipe the snot stains, caused by spurts of booger-expelling crying, from your sleeves. This is not attractive and will not help you pick up chicks. Also: You will be a Debbie Downer at parties and all other social gatherings. In response to a “how are things going? ” from a cute girl, you’ll murmur something about dead babies and ghosts before retreating to the bathroom to pull out Fall on Your Knees and recommence breaking your own heart.

All of that being said, Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald is seriously the best book ever and you should totally read it, like right now. Get to it. Don’t dawdle. Hey, hey, wait. Have some manners and at least finish reading my review first, okay?

Fall on Your Knees and Ann-Marie MacDonald are Relevant to Your Interests:

Ann-Marie MacDonald is totally gay and is a big literary crush of mine. You know that cheesy Canadian film, Better than Chocolate? It’s the one where the two girls fall in love and paint each other with chocolate. Yum. They also hang out a lot in a bookstore called 10 Percent Books. Get it? Get it? It’s funny, isn’t it? That’s Canadian humour for you. Anyways, MacDonald plays Frances, the nerdy, socially inept bookstore owner. Double yum.

Ann-Marie MacDonald as Frances in Better than Chocolate

And you know that awesome documentary series, Doc Zone, on the CBC? She’s the host! You know what would be cool? If I could be in a Rachel Maddow-Ann-Marie MacDonald sandwich. Someone make this happen.

Now onto the book. It has, hands down, one of the most badass femme lesbian characters in Canadian fiction. Kathleen is hot and has great early 20th century style (everyone in the book goes on about how beautiful she is), but more importantly, she’s got guts. [SPOILER ALERT] Alone, she moves from the tiny island of Cape Breton to New York, where she studies hard to become a singer and has a beautifully written romance with an African-American, cross-dressing, piano-playing, chick. All of this happens against the backdrop of the roaring twenties, when jazz music was becoming a thing. Ann-Marie Macdonald’s voice is even kinda like jazz music when she writes as Kathleen. There’s almost too much life in her words. They want to dance off the page and into your body, wake up even your toenails and make you shout.

Here is Kathleen writing in her diary at 1:12 am shortly after moving to New York, when she feels too alive to sleep:

I am burning. I have to live, I have to sing, I want to transform myself into a thousand different characters and carry their life with me onto the stage where it’s so bright and so dark at the same time, just knowing there are three thousand people out there longing to be swept away by the passion that’s about to flood out from the scarlet curtains, to this I consecrate my body and my soul, I can give no more than all of myself, I feel my heart is a throbbing engine and my voice is the valve, like a wailing train, and it has to sing or blow up, there’s too much fuel, too much fire, and what am I to do with this voice if I can’t let it out, it’s not just singing.

via Sirinthada.com

Anyone else need a cigarette after that? By the way, Kathleen or MacDonald (however you want to see the narrator) just described exactly how I feel about writing.

Fall on Your Knees is Oh-So-Canadian:

It takes place in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Back in the day, when people immigrated to Canada via ships, seeing Nova Scotia would’ve been one of the first signs that their cross-Atlantic journey was coming to an end. There’s a real sense of hope at the beginning of Fall on Your Knees, before MacDonald starts turning her characters into monsters and/or having the most god-awful things happen to them. James Piper, who is Irish, marries Materia who is Lebanese, and their future is as wide open as the early Canadian landscape. Yet, the couple becomes trapped — by religion, by tradition, by secrets, by the past. Maybe that’s the great Canadian paradox– that you can feel trapped even when you are surrounded by so much space and so much beauty. But Fall on Your Knees is as much about being trapped as it is about wanting to be set free. And the four Piper sisters, including Kathleen, want freedom on their own terms. As the family expands, James is traumatized by his experiences in WWI and is polluted by religion, which grows and festers in him like a wound, eating up his insides like cancer.

Materia, bowing down to James’ ever-increasingly dogmatic family law, loses her voice. First, she stops speaking her native tongue, and then she hardly speaks at all. She’s always busy cleaning, wiping away the messes and sanitizing every surface of the house until the reader realizes that what she is really wiping away is herself. She meticulously erases her personality like she clears the supper table — removing everything delicious — until there is nothing left and she is a ghost.

There’s a dead baby in this novel. And a ghost. Yes, a ghost. Can I say that there’s something very Canadian about ghosts? Will you buy that? Let me explain. Every Canadian family has at least one ghost story from the early days when they came from Europe and were given a plot of land in the middle of nowhere. You would hear ghost too if you had no neighbours except for wheat fields, a forest, a never-ending dirt road.

But the ghosts in Fall on Your Knees are real. So is the abuse, the prostitution, the murder. MacDonald shows how life can get really fucked up while still being beautiful. By the end of the novel you will be a snotty-sleeved, tired-eyed mess of a person on the floor, having imaginary conversations with MacDonald. Why? How could you? You’ll have fallen on your knees — at once begging for answers and worshipping her genius.


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Malaika likes books, drinking tea, long conversations, dinner parties, making funny faces, bike rides, and dogs. Originally from Edmonton, she now lives in Montreal where she edits, runs, and writes about the Alberta Tar Sands for The Media Co-op. You can follow her on twitter @Malaika_Aleba.

Malaika has written 84 articles for us.

38 Comments

  1. omg. yes. YES YES YES. I just read this book for the first time last month {my roommate has an awesome CanLit collection, what up!}, having absolutely no idea what it was about, and I found it absolutely incredible. I’m seriously in awe of the poignancy of Ann-Marie Macdonald’s storytelling. I’m going to definitely have to reread this book because SO MUCH happens; however, it was a rather mentally/emotionally draining read so I’d definitely have to be in the right state of mind.

    Also, in other Ann-Marie MacDonald-is-a-lesbian news, she’s one of the celebrities who appears in Canada’s It Gets Better video, and also wrote the play Goodnight Desdemona {Good Morning Juliet} which involves a bit of lesbianism (:

  2. i read it for the first time years ago. it changed my life. this is the third time it has popped into my life this week. clearly, it’s time to re-read it. and i’m in the throes of heartbreak right now, so what better catharsis? and it’s sunny. better than reading it in the depths of winter.

    • This was my exact experience last summer. I read it in two sittings, which is saying a lot because it’s a relatively long novel. I love ti so much. It’s the only book I’ve ever wanted to reread immediately after I finished it.

  3. I read this book before I had even fully acknowledged my lady-loving side, and even then I knew it was the best thing I’d ever read. And by that I don’t mean the Internetty Facebooky kind of “best-thing-ever” that changes every few days, but the ACTUAL BEST THING I’VE EVER READ.

    …Also, you said Rachel Maddow-Ann-Marie MacDonald sandwich. *brain short-circuits*

  4. Yes, it’s a sweeping saga, multi-generational, best read on holiday, or on a very long haul flight. And if you have difficulty getting past the first 50 pages, persevere! It’ll suck you in after that. I know several people, including me, who put the book down around page 50…but prodded by friends, picked it up again, and it was totally un-put-downable after that 🙂

    My Summer book to savour on holiday this year is Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel….so looking forward to it.

  5. for years and years i saw this book on *everyone’s* shelf and in all the secondhand bookstores, so i figured it would just be a whatever canlit whatever book. i’m so glad that a few years ago my rad step-dad suggested it as something i’d love. it went well beyond anything i expected and i realized that no other book need be written: i could learn everything about everything by reading this book over and over and over. thank you.

  6. Just as an afterthought—I like the review and L-O-V-E the book, but I am wondering whether you should maybe do something about the Kathleen-Rose spoiler.

    See, the first time I read FOYK I did not see that development coming at all (in the sense that it comes really late in the novel, and Kathleen until then had been thoroughly awesome but never into a girl), so I was blown away twice as hard by the lesbian turn the story took. I wonder if, by making it so explicit, you somehow ‘rob’ the reader of the potential surprise. I would have bet on Frances as the gay one, if anything!

  7. And with the use of the word “tiny” I was just trying to convey that in the 1920s, New York was a much busier, more heavily populated place than Cape Breton, and it must have been scary for Kathleen to move, all alone, to New York. Hope that clarifies:)

  8. As many people are writing, Fall on Your Knees really is one of the best novels ever written, period, and it’s bonus marks that it’s queer and Canadian. Dusterella, you wrote that The Way the Crow Flies is not as gay. Does anyone know if it has queer content at all? I can’t seem to find any info on the internet that specifies, but it’s also not clear that there’s a lesbian character in a lot of the reviews, etc. about Fall on Your Knees. Why do they make it so hard for us to find our books??

    • I won’t spoil anything but if you are looking for some queer content, yes—you will find some. And there is a point as to why it’s not written about in the reviews. But I think you should just read the book anyway, it’s so wonderfully written with some really cool female characters. It’s worth it.

  9. I read this book when I was about 13 and desperate to get my hands on all things gay and available in a small-town library in Canada. This was one of them! However I suspect that a lot of it went over my head. Thanks for reminding me of it, must re-read!

  10. Pingback: 15 Books Every Young Gay Woman Should Read | view3d.tv

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