Drift Stumble Fall
M. Jonathan Lee
Drift Stumble Fall was published on April 12th, 2018 by Hideaway Fall as an adult mystery/thriller. I received an ebook copy from the publisher via NetGalley, but as always, all thoughts are my own.
There are no spoilers in my review beyond what is told in the synopsis.
Content Warning: missing child, child loss, cancer
Richard feels trapped in his hectic life of commitment and responsibility. From the daily mayhem of having young children, an exhausted wife and pushy in-laws who frequently outstay their welcome, Richard’s existence fills him with panic and resentment. The only place he can escape the dark cloud descending upon him is the bathroom, where he hides for hours on end, door locked, wondering how on earth he can escape.
Often staring out of his window, Richard enviously observes the tranquil life of Bill, his neighbour living in the bungalow across the road. From the outside, Bills world appears filled with comfort and peace. Yet underneath the apparent domestic bliss of both lives are lies, secrets, imperfections, sadness and suffering far greater than either could have imagined. Beneath the surface, a family tragedy has left Bill frozen in time and unable to move on. As he waits for a daughter who may never return, Bill watches Richards bustling family life and yearns for the joy it brings. As the two men watch each other from afar, it soon becomes apparent that other people’s lives are not always what they seem.
A sense of unease and foreboding is instilled from the very first page of this book, and, fortunately, M. Jonathan Lee maintained both right through to the end. The plot is appropriately simple, the characters understood yet just out of arm’s reach, and the ending’s implications marvelously give the story numerous pathways to a future beyond the pages – even as I write this review I’m wondering what the characters are doing now…
The synopsis is quite satisfactory, in both what it tells and what it leaves out. On the surface, this is a contemporary story with themes of regret and self-reflection. What makes it stand out against other novels with similar themes, is M. Jonathan Lee’s writing style. The dialogue and descriptions all feel concise, clean, realistic – and give off the feeling that things are not (to echo the synopsis) what they seem. Even the longer introspective paragraphs of our protagonist feel short and to the point, without feeling like they lack substance. There are moments when the story pauses, and it’s hard not to think that maybe something bigger is at play than reality as we know it, but then those moments are explained and a wave of relief temporarily overshadows the hesitant wonder that is always present. This style emphasizes the uneasy atmosphere of the story; before the reader can think too much about what is true and what is illusory, the next events are happening and the anticipation grows a little more.
While the majority of the book focuses on Richard and his family, there are various chapters in which we learn about the neighbor, Bill, and certain events that have transpired in his life. Interestingly enough, the Bill chapters are sort of what keeps the story moving; those interjections break up some of the heavier thoughts Richard has, while still being captivating enough to hold the reader’s attention – and to long for the answer as to why M. Jonathan Lee found it important to include both families in the book.
To get that answer, you will have to read Drift Stumble Fall – at the very least you will find humor in how those three words literally play out in the story. You may even be able to deduce what the dichotomy of the neighbors means to Richard and his plans by just reading the synopsis, but then you would miss out on M. Jonathan Lee’s captivating writing and ability to keep up a mild sense of doom – an artistic achievement perfectly fit for this kind of story.