I really enjoyed Keith Dixon’s The Art of Losing (and my Q&A with him). So I was excited when I found out he had a novel, This Is How You Fall, coming out (his previous book was a cookbook/memoir if you can believe it). When I saw one of my favorite authors, Olen Steinhauer, had offered a blurb filled with praise I knew I had to read it.
Jacob Cameron Asprey, Jr., is the charming son of a charming crook who’s currently residing in the state pen. Strangled by family ties, Jake is barely scraping by. When a local crime boss offers him a deal he’d be a fool to take and a chump to pass up, Jake sees a way out of his troubles — until his options begin to close down, and he finds himself at the heart of a dark plot that will place those he loves in harm’s way.
This Is How You Fall is a story of old flames, old debts, and a new twist on an old con. Part heist, part love story, and part literary noir thriller, it’s a moody rumination on identity and loyalty, with dazzling plot twists that lead to an inevitable, destructive conclusion.
It took me a little while to get used to the diction and style of this story and the lead character for some reason but once I did I really enjoyed it. In typical Dixon fashion it deals with issues of family and fate, the choices we make and the ongoing repercussions of those choices.
Jake is an interesting character and the setting adds to the intrigue. There are many familiar tropes, for lack of a better word, in this story. Jake wanting to escape the history and suffocation of his hometown and family; to make his own life. The complicated personal politics and class tensions between middle class folks aspiring to more and those just hanging on. The impact of drugs on a community, etc. Themes and story lies often used.
But Dixon brings a literary sensibility to the story even as he uses these familiar structures and blends in the noir and heist elements. It is the elegance with which he describes the thoughts and emotions of his characters and the way he maps out the charged relationships. The interplay between Jake, his true love Sally and her dangerous sister Kimber is full of the messy, complex and shifting and potentially dangerous emotions of real life.
Even some of the minor characters are well done and hint at motivations and characteristics that make you want to know more about them. The cast has depth and feels like it is pulled from a much larger story rather than just acting as card board cutouts to help the plot along.
I love this description of Jake visting Kimber who is sunbathing by the pool. It captures the danger and allure but also a tinge of regret that things have changed from the simplicity of their younger relationship:
Kimber, following her sister’s example, had come to possess the sort of body that could electrify a stretch of beach from one hundred yards, husbands looking up dreamily from their sandcastles, wives reaching absently for their cover-ups. Her mouth full and bow-shaped, blushed coral against tanned skin, and you sensed within the perfect white teeth one would expect of a dentist’s daughter. Envy the words that roll from such a mouth: those lucky consonants, caressed with a tongue-tap, kissed and sent on their way. She wore sunglasses dark and depthless as pools of motor oil, the color plagiarized by the glossy hair spilling around her neck and shoulders, her toes hooked into the style of tiger-print heels the women in the underwear magazines wore when they hiked up and down the runway. I’m remembering Kimber at age ten, cultivating a habit of adorning her fingers and toes with butterfly stickers. Now a tattoo of a serpent coiled around her bare ankle, heading toward her instep.
Jake feels caught in a web of conflicting loyalties and desires. There are no easy solutions or clear cut paths. Even when one seems to appear soon circumstances change and the easy part is revealed as ephemeral. Things never move quite in a straight line and every action has a reaction, as Jake finds out in this encounter. And often times we take actions we know we will regret later but just can’t seem to avoid.
But of course, something offers itself up as a solution and Jake talks himself into jumping at it. Once involved, however, finding a way out without hurting the very people he loves the most becomes a challenge. Eventually Jake decides that he has to change the dynamic and regain control. The risks to himself are worth if he can flip the roles and determine his own fate (at least as much as possible).
I have to admit I am still pondering the ending a bit – not sure if it was too clever or a nice twist. You will have to decide that for yourself.
But I highly recommend Keith Dixon. If you haven’t already, go back and read his first two novels. And for Kindle owners today is your lucky day. This Is How You Fall is available on Kindle for $3.99! But whatever format you choose to read it in, I think you will enjoy it.