After the Fall by Victoria Roberts

As I noted the other day, I have been in a bit of a reading funk lately; not able to really settle on a book and enjoy reading it straight through.  So to break out of this rut I thought I would shake it up a little bit and read something different.  So I grabbed some books at the library and picked up a few books at the Friends of the Library sale that were outside my normal reading pattern.

After the Fall is one such book. Having no strong connection to New York City or the New Yorker I wouldn’t normally have a reason to pick up this book:

After the Fall introduces us to a brilliantly eccentric family from New York’s Upper East Side. Pops, a self-made millionaire, is a mad inventor who gleans his inspiration from popovers and Raquel Welsh. Mother is a fabulously dressed but mercurial socialite from Buenos Aires whose weapon of choice is a croquet mallet. Young Alan, our earnest and studious narrator, and his drama-queen little sister, Alex, love their parents but must turn to their good-natured housekeeper and cook for a better sense of reality.

One fateful day, Alan returns home to find that the family has gone bust, not even a penny to be found. The next morning, to the children’s surprise, the family wakes up in Central Park along with the entire contents of their penthouse arranged just as before—art, furniture, pugs, and all. Aided by their two loyal housekeepers and fed by the maitre d’ from their favorite restaurant, the family makes Central Park into a comfortable and creative home.

But soon the strains of life—and the weather, which is getting chilly—threaten to tear apart the parents’ marriage. As the holiday season approaches, the children rise to the challenge of bringing their family back together.

But I saw it at the library and decided that no harm would come from reading such a short and whimsical work. And it turned out to be a quick and enjoyable read. A quirky and, yes, whimsical, jaunt.

I think Kirkus succinctly sums up my reaction:

Those who can’t stand the dandy-ish style of The New Yorker may find this avant-garde children’s book for adults off-putting. For those who value absurdity and have a soft spot for anthropomorphic animals, it’s a richly illustrated treat. A tale full of juvenile embellishment aimed squarely at sophisticated adults.

Karen Sandstrom thinks there is more than meets the eye here:

While “After the Fall” is entertaining, Roberts slips between her text and art the not-so-funny anxiety we share about our security in these times.

So what will become of us? Alas, Roberts can answer only for her fictional family. And while the ending closes down the story in a satisfying enough way, we can’t help but be reminded that our real-world recession hasn’t exactly been a fairy tale.

I am not sure how much anxiety is really in the background. The being kicked out of your home part certainly fits but the absurd and carefree way they live in Central Park doesn’t quite line up.  But I guess in its way it hints at the threat of losing your way of life-of going from luxury to survival-even if it does so in an humorous and non-direct way.

What struck me was the personality – the author’s, the character’s, the setting’s.  With few words and some simple illustrations Roberts quickly and effortlessly introduces a sense of humor, a style and a tone that connects. A rye, urbane, whimsical  upper crust perspective with a touch of the absurd thrown in.  The absurd works in a way because it is a reflection of real life and the absurdities it all too often involves.

I think Kate Tuttle has it about right: “Alan’s eccentric clan is memorably strange and winning, and the book slight but satisfying.”

I am glad I spotted this at the library. A nice palette cleanser if you will and hopefully the start of a new groove in my reading …

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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