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Fall On Your Knees    by Ann-Marie MacDonald order for
Fall On Your Knees
by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2002 (1996)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The first line of Fall On Your Knees sets the scene ... 'A long time ago, before you were born, there lived a family called Piper on Cape Breton Island'. We are introduced to James Piper, who is Irish. In the early 1900s, he meets and marries fourteen year-old Materia, who is Algerian.

After daughter Kathleen is born, James determines that she is extremely talented; she has a beautiful voice. All his efforts go into providing the best training for her. Two other daughters follow - Mercedes and Frances - adjuncts to Kathleen's future. There the plot allows life to intervene, to upset carefully laid plans. The darkness of human nature is explored in the actions of the father. Relationships are tenuous at best. Each of the characters finds their own way to handle what they must endure. Enter Lily, the last child in this unusual household. Born under mysterious circumstances and with a mystical brother named Ambrose, she walks with a weak leg and wears her brace with a satisfied pride.

The players in Fall On Your Knees are all sharply defined and act their roles to perfection. The book is long enough (at 654 pages) to allow the reader to become satisfyingly immersed in the day-by-day drama. We watch the children grow up and become women. We watch the father in his daily struggle to provide for his family. We are aware of his weaknesses and are stunned by his actions. We marvel at Materia's placid expulsion from her Algerian family. We are suspicious of Mercedes trying to play God. We are not sure if Frances really accepts what fate has dealt her. We want to scream at the author to let her know what has happened to Trixie, so she can be saved.

Fall On Your Knees is a powerful, bold first novel. Shocking at times, tender, raucous, penetratingly perceptive, it's a vivid study of human nature at its best - and at its worst.

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