Thank You to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advanced copy of Susan Perabo’s novel, The Fall of Lisa Bellow, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT– Eighth grader Meredith Oliver is a girl who exists in the middle. She’s neither completely unpopular or part of the “in-crowd.” Meredith and her friends both hate and emulate the popular girls, and in particular, their leader, Lisa Bellow.
Meredith and Lisa find their lives entwined, when they both happen to be buying sandwiches at a local deli during a robbery. Both girls are told to stay on the floor, while the deli’s employee is beaten. The thief decides to kidnap Lisa, leaving the employee unconscious and Meredith shaking on the floor.
In the days, weeks, months following Lisa’s kidnapping, Meredith tries to make sense of what happened to her classmate, and why she wasn’t also taken? Although Meredith was spared, her mother, Claire, cannot shake the thought that she is unable to protect her children from harm.
LIKE– Last year, I was introduced to Perabo’s writing through her fantastic short story collection, Why They Run the Way They Do. Perabo is a fabulous storyteller and I was eager to read her first novel.
The Fall of Lisa Bellow has an unusual and interesting narrative structure. A large chunk of the story, about 1/3, is told through Meredith’s fantasy of what both what she imagines has happened to Lisa, and what she imagines would happen if she had been kidnapped alongside Lisa. This fantasy is rich with specific details, including of the kidnapper, who in reality, was covered by a mask and could not be identified by Meredith. Meredith is so distraught by the robbery and kidnapping, that these fantasies become mixed-up with reality. She cannot distinguish the real details from her imaginary ones. They’re muddled. She is obsessed with this fantasy world and with Lisa. She creates a fictional reality for Lisa, but she also befriend’s Lisa’s popular friends, who now accept Meredith in the aftermath, and she even becomes close to Lisa’s mom. Lisa’s mom is desperate for anything that will remind her of Lisa, which includes encouraging Lisa’s friends to spend time at her house and hang out in Lisa’s bedroom. While Claire is afraid that she can’t physically protect her daughter, she is still losing Meredith to obsession and mental anguish.
Early in the story, we learn that Claire, a dentist, intentionally causes pain to one of her young patients, a boy that she suspects has been teasing her son. When Claire confesses her crime to her husband, he is horrified, and although Claire does not regret her actions (she poked a kid’s sensitive tooth for temporary pain, not long-term damage), she realizes that her husband does not trust her. This is compounded with an emotional affair that she had when her mother was dying, something else that she confessed and which instigated his initial distrust toward her. This makes Claire feel isolated and unwilling to share her feelings with her husband. The robbery is not the only incident that has damaged Claire’s children; her son Evan, had his promising baseball career ended, when an accident left him partially blind. The family had barely begun to recover from Evan’s accident, when the robbery happened. Claire’s unhinged and more than any other character, I wondered how she would cope.
Perabo has created flawed, isolated characters that are existing on the brink. The Fall of Lisa Bellow works because of its familiarity. You don’t need to have had a shock like surviving a robbery, to understand what it’s like to fall down the rabbit hole with regard to obsessing over other people and “what if” scenarios. You don’t have to lose your sight, to understand what it would mean to have your dreams crushed in an instant. You don’t need to have the power and an opportunity to hurt a bully, to understand Claire’s actions? The Fall of Lisa Bellow deals with extreme situations, but it’s relatable throughout.
DISLIKE– Nothing. The Fall of Lisa Bellow had me hooked from page one.
RECOMMEND– Yes! If you’re not familiar with Perabo, you should be. I highly recommend The Fall of Lisa Bellow and Perabo’s short story collections. Her writing is powerful, both in novel and short story formats.