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Fall Back Down When I Die
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Fall Back Down When I Die
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Finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel PrizeFor readers of My Absolute Darling and Fourth of July Creek, a "riveting and timely" (Jess Walter) Montana story about the unbreakable bond between...
Finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel PrizeFor readers of My Absolute Darling and Fourth of July Creek, a "riveting and timely" (Jess Walter) Montana story about the unbreakable bond between...
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  • Finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize


    For readers of My Absolute Darling and Fourth of July Creek, a "riveting and timely" (Jess Walter) Montana story about the unbreakable bond between a young man and the abandoned boy put in his care, 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.

About the Author-

  • Joe Wilkins is the author of the award-winning memoir The Mountain and the Fathers. His work has appeared in the Georgia Review, the Harvard Review, Slate, and elsewhere. He is a Pushcart Prize winner and a finalist for the National Magazine Award and the PEN/USA Award. He lives with his wife and two children in western Oregon, where he teaches writing at Linfield College.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    January 15, 2019
    A heart-rending tale of family, love, and violence in which the "failures of the nation, the failures of myth, met the failures of men."Poet Wilkins' (When We Were Birds, 2016, etc.) politically charged first novel, a "sad riddle of a story," is set primarily in 2009, in rural, poverty-stricken Eastern Montana, with the first legal wolf hunt in decades about to begin. Wilkins crafts a subtle, tightly plotted, and slowly unfolding narrative told through three characters' points of view: Verl Newman, in first person; and his son, Wendell, and a woman named Gillian Houlton in third person. The story begins a dozen years earlier with Verl, who's fled to the Big Dry's cold, deep mountains after shooting and killing a man. He carries his young son Wendell's notebook and writes to him each night: "I imagine you are hearing all kinds of lies and should hear the truth of it from your old dad who made you." In the novel's present day, Wendell, a down-and-out ranch hand who loves to read, takes custody of his incarcerated cousin Lacy's 7-year-old son, Rowdy, who's "developmentally delayed." He grows close to the boy and wants to be the father he never had. Hardworking Gillian is assistant principal and school counselor in the small town of Colter, outside Billings. It was her husband, Kevin, an employee of the Bureau of Land Management, whom Verl killed back in the day. She's doing what she can to help a troubled student whose stepfather leads the right-wing Bull Mountain Resistance and raise her beloved daughter, Maddy, as a single mom. Through these characters, in a prose that can hum gently, then spark like a fire, Wilkins fashions a Western fable which spirals down to a tragic end: "They'll wear each other down to nothing...right down to sulfur, dust, and bone."Following in the literary roots of Montanans Jim Harrison and Rick Bass, Wilkins packs a lot of story and stylistic wallop into this gripping, outstanding novel.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 25, 2019
    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.

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    Little, Brown and Company
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