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In the Fall: A Novel Paperback – July 10, 2001

3.9 out of 5 stars 153 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Midway through Jeffrey Lent's turbulent and lyrical first novel, a wayward son indulges a sobering reflection. "Mostly, people are cruel, given the chance," Jamie Pelham observes, not only assuaging his own disappointments but also affirming the intransigence of deed and memory--and prejudice. In the Fall is freighted with such moments, as a postbellum Yankee family strives to fathom its past in order to clarify its present. What they find, as Lent's tale ambles over three generations, is the danger of probing too deeply.

When 17-year-old Norman Pelham departs his father's Vermont farm to join the Union army, he can little anticipate the incredulity and scorn that his return--accompanied by his former-slave bride--will elicit. The newlyweds make a go of country life, Leah's industry wins the locals' begrudging respect, and the two transact a fidelity that only rarely acknowledges their racial dissimilarities. Leah, however, who fled her native North Carolina after lashing out violently against a lifetime of abuse, believes an inescapable retribution stalks her. And so, beset with guilt and anxious to confront her own past, she briefly leaves Norman and their three children, throwing all five lives into disarray. Her desperation eventually reemerges in her youngest child, the volatile Jamie, who abandons farm life for bootlegging and rash romance. When his own ruthlessness undoes him, it falls to his son, Foster, to uncover the lingering mystery of Leah's life and death, as well as the obstinate racism that has stalked the Pelhams.

Throughout its pages, In the Fall suggests that identity consists of an undeniable duality--that although we can make of ourselves what we will, we can never completely efface what made us. Foster, upon returning to the farm his father had left years before, understands that it is "a world he was not even sure he wanted part of, and yet a part of it belonged to him by the simple fact of his existence." Unlike his grandmother, though, who found only a disillusioning misery in self-discovery, or his father, who simply shirked the quest, Foster is confident of redemption. Despite a few prolonged episodes and an occasionally portentous dialogue, Jeffrey Lent's debut is admirable, a sobering and painstaking chronicle of the persistence of tragedy and the irrefutability of hope. --Ben Guterson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The immediacy of the past, the tensions of race, the crushing weight of guilt and the searing intensity of forbidden love drive Lent's expansive, richly detailed and expertly plotted debut novel. Spanning three generations, from the end of the Civil War through Prohibition, the story begins with an interracial marriage between a Vermont soldier and a runaway slave girl. Nineteen-year-old Norman Pelham is wounded and dying in the woods of Virginia near the end of the war when 16-year-old Leah finds and saves him. She has fled Sweetboro, N.C., after killing her owner's sonAher own half brotherAwhen he tried to rape her. Norman and Leah know better than to allow their initial attraction to flower into love, but they cannot ignore their passion, and they marry on the road to Vermont. In brisk, confident detail, Lent recreates many historical scenesAsoldiers returning wearily home, cider-pressing time in Vermont, the ins and outs of bootlegging and whiskey-running in the resort mountains of New Hampshire in the '20s. The male charactersANorman, his son and youngest child, Jamie, and Jamie's son, FosterAprovide the narrative thread for the novel; but it is Leah whose story thematically unites the lives of husband, son, and grandson. Twenty-five years after her flight, Leah finds that she cannot continue to put the past behind her and must go back to Sweetboro. What she discovers there, and never reveals to her husband or to either of her grown daughters, is a mystery until her grandson Foster finally makes his own trip south. Lent's prose is sometimes lyrical to a fault, but otherwise remarkable for its grace, felicity and precision. Engrossing, wonderfully written, with a full gallery of believable and sympathetic characters, this first novel introduces an ambitious and talented writer. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. BOMC main selection; QPB selection; paperback rights to Vintage; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Sweden and Greece. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (July 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037570745X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375707452
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (153 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #807,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on April 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautiful, lovely book as heartbreakingly sad as anything I've ever read. There's four or five places in Lent's narrative that just cut you off at the knees emotionally. I'd just have to put the book down a while because I was so affected with the beauty and melancholy of his story. Generational sagas tend to spread a lot of characters too thin over a natural episodic repetitiveness. Lent never allows that to happen here. Each character is presented in their own unique way, their stories sometimes dovetailing, but as time passes back and again, their true natures are ever more revealed, often tragically. I thought them all wonderful. I'd intended to take my time reading "Fall" but around page 180-90 the whole thing, perfectly terrific to that point, picked up an undeniable narrative steam, one of those I-cannot-&-will-not put this bloody thing down till I find out what happens kind of things. What a ride. In the end this is one of those books you love to tell friends about, knowing that if they only like it half as much as you do, they'll love it.
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Format: Hardcover
"In the Fall" is a first novel written by someone who was born to write. The story has such depth and the characters so fully drawn that reading the book is a pleasure that rewards.
Set in Vermont between the Civil War and the Depression, "In the Fall" begins with Norman Pelham returning from the Civil War with his new wife, Leah, a former slave, whom he met when he was wounded and Leah was on the run from the plantation. It would seem that Leah has escaped the South and the legacy of slavery in her New England home, but that is far from the truth. The past ricochets through the following generations, leaving a young grandson to look for the truth.
The Pelhams, with their strong, unconventional relationships, stubborness, and fits of violence, are an interesting bunch. "In the Fall" is an unusual and compelling debut.
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Format: Hardcover
Well before I finished this book, I was thinking about the reviews I had previously written. I tried to recall those that I thought merited 5 stars. By the time I finished, "In The Fall", I decided a five star rating is something that should be rather scarce.
Book Jackets generally suffer from severe cases of superlative laced hyperbole. If all endorsements were accurate you could walk blindfolded into your favorite purveyor of books, lay your hand on the first tome to be touched, and a Pulitzer, Booker, Nobel, or a Whitbread would be in you hand! However, it is far more likely you would dredge up a tell-all book on Harry Potter's Carbohydrate Addiction with a free coupon good toward any exploitive bestseller, think Boulder Colorado, there are two on the bestseller list as I write.
But in this scenario the odds are beaten, no 250-page novel/screenplay, rather a 542-page piece of magic that booklovers live for. "In The Fall" is with you whether you are reading, or away from it. Mr. Lent creates characters so vivid, a story that reveals itself without affectation, pretense, or literary sleight of hand, that this book crosses that point in the reader's mind from a book, to an experience that not only immerses you while being read, but crosses from just a piece of fiction you read, to a set of acquaintances that stay with you. The "fictional" conversations and events, the characters so vividly rendered, you know not only would you recognize them on the street, but wouldn't be surprised if you did. This is a story you think about as happening, rather than just a book. The degree to which you enter this world is a rare event, a special experience.
The Writer I thought of when enjoying this work was John Steinbeck.
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Format: Hardcover
In the Fall is a remarkable first novel, inahbitated by fully-developed characters living in a complex and evolving world. But it really is a simple book, too. And therein lies its beauty. Jeffrey Lent's ability to create these complex characters -- much like John Irving without the humor -- and move them from just after the Civil War up through the early 20th century exhibits a singular talent. He takes us through the extraoridnary events of their otherwise ordinary lives. And we feel as if we're there in New England, and there in the South with them. The writing is beautiful and lyrical, yet I turned the pages as quickly as if I was reading "The Bourne Identity." Lent's writing soars in the middle third of the book, and In the Fall has some of a first novelist's ending problems, but the writing is throughoughly enjoyable. I imagine that In the Fall will inevitably be compared with Cold Mountain. Both first novels, both feature the Civil War and its affect on our nation, both wonderful works of literature. Yet In the Fall truly stands on its own as a distinct work of art.
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By A Customer on April 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In the Fall is a tragic story of how society forces its values on us and how we continue to "fall" beneath its weight rather than rise above it. The Pelham family foundation was cracked from the beginning, not because of Norman, who ends up marrying an ex-slave, but because love and intimacy were not openly displayed in the Pelham home although it was experienced in small, everyday ways. Norman finds his own way of expressing his love, not by his words but by his actions. He passes this on to his children, without even realizing that he has left them a legacy to express themselves physically but very seldom, verbally. This thread of expression is woven through all three of the generations represented in this novel. I hope this novel does well; I hope it climbs onto the Best Seller's List because in many ways, this book is about America-its sins, its fears, its history and its family structure. Until we learn to confront and face our past, our future will always be in question and for some, in jeopardy. Jeffrey Lent takes on a subject during a period of time that is still not talked about openly enough among those of us who call ourselves "well educated and well read". The language is descriptive, vivid and engaging. It sucks the reader in and makes her feel a part of the experience, not as an observer but as a participant. Read this novel and by all means, pass it on.
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