This is my first experiment with volunteering, on Twitter, to randomly read and review independent work. Thank God, my first taker was the very talented, J.R. Schuyler (@JRSchuyler1), a copy editor living in New Zealand, like Frodo.
Novellas occupy an awkward space between short stories and full-length novels. Like a short story, it aims at unity of effect — a single theme or idea, but a good novella allows the reader to luxuriate in that effect, to explore its corners and hidden egresses. Just as When the Leaves Fall perfectly occupies that space between short story and novel, so too does its content reveal the space between reality and imagination, wakefulness and delirium, eager anticipation and cold disillusionment.
Arthur finds himself stumbling through the countryside of the American Southeast on his way home from a tour of duty and imprisonment in the first world war. Without money or transportation, he’s walked all the way from Maine to Tennessee, getting by on wild game, stream water, and whatever he can find. Injured from a fall, and perilously close to death, he is picked up by Paul, a kind farmer with a horse and wagon, who brings him to the nearest town for medical attention and food. But a recent murder in the town brings Arthur back to the trauma of war, and stands between him and the homecoming he’s imagined for so long.
J.R. Schuyler’s writing is at once expert and effortless, evoking a palpable and vivid gloom that reminded me of the mid-west dust bowl of HBO’s Carnavale (I’m a TV guy, so forgive me for not supplying a literary reference). From trees that seem to echo Arthur’s misery to the warp and creak of the farmer’s wagon, Schuyler’s judicious and elegant details anchor the reader immediately in both the physical scene and the protagonist’s mood.
When the Leaves Fall is a perfect Sunday after-brunch read, the start of a train ride, an airport layover, or a day at the park.