I love Marisa de los Santos.
I love the characters she creates, because they’re so lovable in their humanity, so knowable in their occasional quirkiness, so identifiable in the ways they manage to knot up their lives.
I love the way she uses everyday language but allows her poets voice to creep in just enough so we want to stop and savor each sentence a little more than we might ordinarily do in a contemporary novel.
I love the way her stories connect us to our deepest emotions and make us think about some of our relationships in new ways.
This week I finished her latest novel, Falling Together, the story of three people who became best friends in college, go their separate ways, and then unexpectedly fall back together after six years apart. And while this novel was just as successful in all the ways I described above, somehow I didn’t love it quite as much as I had hoped I would.
It’s hard when you have really high expectations for a book and an author, and perhaps I invested too much excitement in this novel, having just re-read Belong To Me and loving it more the second time round than the first and being so eager to delve into another book that I would love just as much. I think what didn’t work for me so well was simply the story line. It was harder for me to connect with these characters from a different generation and the way they were reacting to one another. The premise of the story didn’t ring true – two of the friends embark on a journey across the world to search for the third, accompanied by the hostile husband of the friend who has gone missing – so I couldn’t invest myself in the outcome either way.
But there were still luminous and wonderful spots, pages I dog-eared, and sentences that struck at the core of my heart. The writing was everything I love about Marisa de los Santos, and so I could forgive a storyline that seemed somewhat contrived.
It was Pen’s (for Penelope) relationship with her parents that was most interesting to me. Pen’s father had died suddenly two years prior to the events of the book, and we don’t discover how he died until very near the end of the novel. Pen’s mother has been mourning the loss deeply, but has recently announced that she “found someone.” Not sure how she feels about this development, Pen catches sight of her mother reading late one night, and realizes something important about her parent and herself.
She looked in and saw Margaret tucked into one corner of the big sofa reading a book, and the sight of her made Pen catch her breath. She looked purely alone, but content, as complex and self-contained as a Russian doll, inward and inward and inward. As Pen watched, her mother smiled a private smile at something in her book, and Pen thought she had never seen anything so incandescently lovely as her mother alone, until her mother glanced up and saw her and shut her book and became lovelier still, open-faced and alive.
Pen thought, You are like me. You like your little pockets of solitude, but you’re not made for being alone for long. There were people who could live on their own and be happy, and then there were people like Pen and Margaret who needed the falling together, the daily work of giving and taking and talk and touch.
While not my favorite of de los Santos’ novels (that honor goes to Belong To Me) Falling Together still has a place in my heart and on my shelf next to her other books.