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One fiction book this week.

There are certain words I tend to associate with the typical "examination of love and lust" novel: pretentious, overwritten, and unrealistic chief among them. After the Fall avoids all them all. The themes of Ladd's novel (How do people choose friends and mates? Why do they cheat? What happens to a compromised marriage?) are common enough, but readers looking for a typical treatment of infidelity; that is to say, a treatment focusing on how erotic the sex is (the romance novel treatment), or how the beautiful suffering of the betrayed (the martyrdom treatment), or on the righteous humiliation of the unfaithful party (the morality tale treatment) are going to leave After the Fall disappointed.

They're also missing the point. This novel is not about any of those things. Rather it is a subtle portrayal of how infidelity--indeed, how any relationship, be it with oneself or others--functions in real life: the lies people tell about themselves, the lies they tell to themselves, and the tragedy that it’s precisely when you think you know someone so well you can read their thoughts that you cease to understand them. There's devastation, anger, and regret to be sure; characters find hidden strengths and grow, but this all happens believably, and not to the characters to whom genre conventions dictate it should. Readers will need to keep their eyes open to catch this development because Ladd never forgets that the most unreliable narrator of all is the self. After the Fall is well-written novel that looks at the realities of infidelity while avoiding the easy narrative choices to which far too many novelists resort.

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July 2014

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