Fall back down when I die A novel

Joe Wilkins

Book - 2019

"An orphaned Montana ranch hand takes in the mute seven-year-old son of an incarcerated cousin and learns to love him as old grievances involving land and family come back to haunt them." --

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Domestic fiction
New York : Little, Brown and Company 2019.
First edition
Physical Description
243 pages ; 25 cm
Main Author
Joe Wilkins (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* When Wendell Newman was a boy, his father shot and killed a game warden before disappearing for good into Montana's Bull Mountains, becoming in the process a martyr to the local anti-government militia—a group the adult Wendell wants nothing to do with. Now a poor but hardworking ranch hand, he is thrust into a parental role when a social worker drops off his jailed sister's nonspeaking son, Rowdy. The boy draws the attention of Gillian Houlton, assistant principal of the local school and the still-grieving wife of the dead warden; when Gillian's daughter Maddy takes an interest in both Wendell and Rowdy, unaware of Wendell's relationship to her father's killer, it's the final link in a deadly chain that inexorably tightens around all of them. In his first novel, short story writer, poet, and memoirist Wilkins (The Mountain and the Fathers, 2013) writes of hardscrabble life on the northern Great Plains with mesmerizing power, creating characters with rich if troubled interior lives who are desperate for agency and haunted by absent fathers. Wendell and Rowdy's slowly blossoming relationship is as lovely and breathtaking as the book's tragic ending is inevitable and devastating. Suffused with a sense of longing, loss, and the desire for change—asking deep questions about our place in the landscape and what, if anything, we are owed—this is a remarkable and unforgettable first novel. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Montana's rugged beauty is poetically evoked in Wilkins's fine debut. The story is divided into three narratives. First, readers meet Wendell Newman, a high school basketball star turned rancher whose family operation is in financial trouble after paying for his late mother's failed surgeries. Things become even more complicated when he is asked to become guardian for his possibly mute, seven-year-old cousin, Rowdy Burns, whose mother has just been arrested for possession of methamphetamines. Next, there is Gillian Houlton, an assistant principal who is having a difficult time raising her teenage daughter, Maddy, after the death of her husband, a game warden who was killed by a rancher. Finally, readers get the written apologia of a man named Verl, who is on the run from the law and hiding out in the mountains. The three stories converge when a militia group, the Bull Mountain Resistance, shows up at Wendell's door just as a deputy sheriff and social worker arrive to check up on Rowdy. Shots are fired, and Wendell is forced to flee into the mountains with Rowdy and Maddy. Though the plot depends on too many coincidences, the novel achieves an undeniable cumulative emotional power as the fates of its memorable characters play out. This is an accomplished first novel, notable in particular for its strong depiction of the timeless landscape of Montana's big sky country. (Mar.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A young, orphaned Montana ranch hand takes in the mute, emotionally damaged 7-year-old son of an incarcerated cousin and learns to love him as old grievances involving land and family come back to haunt them. 25,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

For readers of My Absolute Darling and Fourth of July Creek, a "riveting and timely" Montana story about the unbreakable bond between a young man and the abandoned boy put in his care (Jess Walter), as old grievances of land and blood are visited upon them.Wendell Newman, a young ranch hand in Montana, has recently lost his mother, leaving him an orphan. His bank account holds less than a hundred dollars, and he owes back taxes on what remains of the land his parents owned, as well as money for the surgeries that failed to save his mother's life.An unexpected deliverance arrives in the form of seven-year-old Rowdy Burns, the mute and traumatized son of Wendell's incarcerated cousin. When Rowdy is put under his care, what begins as an ordeal for Wendell turns into a powerful bond, as he comes to love the boy more than he ever thought possible. That bond will be stretched to the breaking point during the first legal wolf hunt in Montana in more than thirty years, when a murder ignites a desperate chase.Caught on the wrong side of a disaffected fringe group, Wendell is determined both to protect Rowdy and to avoid the same violent fate that claimed his own father. A gripping story set in a fractured and misunderstood community, Fall Back Down When I Die is a haunting and unforgettable tale of sacrificial love.Finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize