If I Fall, If I Die is Michael Christie’s first novel – you can tell in the careful precision of each sentence, attention to detail, and the beat of enthusiasm that keeps you moving through his home-hitting story.
The novel examines the fundamental relationship between a mother and son. The mother suffers extreme panicking episodes due to a fear of everything, and the son, beginning his adolescence, has never stepped foot outside. Will and his agoraphobic mother, a phobia that generates intense anxiety in situations where escape may not be possible and help may not be immediately available, live in secluded Thunder Bay. Eleven years old when the book begins, Will has grown up with a child-like understanding of his mother’s condition, describing it as a Black Lagoon only she can see. While Will does not suffer from agoraphobia himself, he has developed an extreme caution of the world outside – sporting a wet suit for months at a time, and hanging a hamlet on the corner of his bed for whenever he steps outside of their shared bedroom. Always content to remain inside, home schooled with the wide availability of home delivery for all of their material needs and basic necessities, Will ventures outside for the first time when he hears a bomb go off outside.
Bomb is an exaggeration, as are most of the naive imaginings Will describes as he adventures into the real world, but they make you think, and they sit in your brain feeding your own imagination. There are few moments I remember as the first experience of something, but Christie asks you to think of these memories, even after you’ve categorized the truth of them and buried the process of developing those understandings. It’s a story of growth, self-realization and preservation; taking those first steps for yourself when your whole world has been subconsciously dedicated by those who have occupied it until it widened. From black and white to grey, the novel is less reminiscent and more empathetic to the discovery of the lines we draw for ourselves; our points of no return.
These underlying themes are surrounded by pushing situations that drive Will into his coming of age – his first friend Marcus is missing, the first girl to talk to him at school asks him to steal drawings from a boy she likes, wondrous and terrifying wildlife, skateboards and maybe-my-mother-was-rights.
“It’s cliché to say children teach us about ourselves and about our parents, but it’s true”, as Christie so accurately summarizes. My favourite book of this review series so far, pick up If I Fall, If I Die at the Millbrook library.