In Patrick Flanery’s tensely brilliant second novel, the layered and tumultuous past of one plot of former farmland comes to haunt its new owners in breathtaking yet deeply meaningful ways.
When Julia and Nathaniel arrive in a luxury suburb of neo-Victorian homes on the edge of a sprawling midwestern city, they have no inkling of its history. For the East Coast couple and their young son, Copley, it is a fresh start, promising a bucolic American future. They buy up the signature home of the development in a foreclosure sale and move in to their brave new world. Yet violence lies just beneath the surface of this land, and simmers deep within Nathaniel—as it did in the development’s architect. As the remaining trees on the land bear witness, reality shifts, and the edges of what is right and wrong blur and then vanish, as Copley becomes convinced that someone is living in the house with them.
“As in his sterling 2012 debut, Absolution, Flanery balances thriller-novel twists with smart and sincere sociological meditations.”—Wall Street Journal
“Patrick Flanery has fashioned a crumbling 21st-century manor that can hold its own among those authors most sepulchral, allegorical inspirations. . . . We follow Fallen Land on tenterhooks from fearsome opening to shuddery climax, waiting to see what it will do.”—Boston Globe
“Flanery has planted a modern-day bogeyman tale in this fertile ground of suspicion. . . . He has the skill and the vision to transform the darkness that has infected this country into something that walks the earth”—New York Daily News
“[Flanery is a] gifted storyteller . . . manages to both provoke and enthrall in this densely plotted page turner.”—BookPage
“[Flanery] confronts the traumas of American life with poignancy and the gravity they deserve, approaching them with the care required to help weather the storm.”—BookSlut
“This psychological thriller doesn’t stop at suspenseful and chilling, though. Fallen Land deconstructs the American dream to expose its most damning flaws and unsound foundations. The novel is rich in imagery and metaphor, and its conclusions are deeply disturbing. Written with the same elegance and ease demonstrated in Absolution, Flanery’s second novel will keep readers riveted from intriguing prelude to stunning finale.”—Booklist (starred)
“Flanery’s engrossing new novel speaks to modern anxieties through themes of loss. . . . Flanery excels in depicting psychic anguish. Paul is both disturbing and fascinating, and Copley, helpless in the face of his father’s increasing harshness, is eminently sympathetic. The characters’ struggles culminate in a shocking and memorable denouement.”—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Flanery explores family and social mores, cataloging emotional damage tumbling from generation to generation, all woven into a metaphorical tale about the human cost of bubble economics, the undermining of personal freedoms in the name of homeland security and the ugly consequences of the privatization of public service. . . . Flanery’s dark view of human ambition, weakness and complacency is both thoughtful and terrifying. A haunting, layered allegory.”—Kirkus (starred)
“Flanery gives every character a nuanced inner voice, allowing the reader to empathize with, if not fully understand, the actions of each. This is a tense, gut-wrenching take on the American dream gone horribly awry.”—Library Journal, (starred)
“Like Flanery’s debut, Absolution, Fallen Land is thematically ambitious—the financial crisis and the legacy of slavery are among its concerns—but also thrillingly tense and atmospheric. The author tugs at the edges of his narrative until it assumes exaggerated, Gothic shapes. Comparisons to Nathaniel Hawthorne, to whom there are allusions throughout, would not be extravagant.”—Financial Times
“Now, on the back of his highly regarded South Africa–set debut, Absolution, Patrick Flanery takes up the challenge of what DeLillo calls ‘the American mystery’ in a new novel that also explores the dark shadows cast by history and old lies. . . . In Fallen Land, Flanery has given us a gripping thriller, and a superb portrayal of how ordinary men can veer into madness, but its real power lies in its recognition of the tragic failure of an American dream that should have tried, at least, to live up to Francis Bellamy’s principle of ‘liberty and justice for all.’ ”—The Guardian
“Patrick Flanery’s second novel . . . combines old-style suspense with a chilling picture of modern America. . . . Fallen Land is an ambitious thriller vehicle for a dissection of America. . . Fallen Land impressively examines how thoroughly the American dream has turned into the American nightmare.”—Sunday Times
The image of a person unwilling to abandon a home, in which lingers the memory of family now lost, has been with me since I was child. In the early 1960s, following the death of her husband, my paternal grandmother went bankrupt and lost her house. Understandably, she did not want to leave; after moving she returned in secret and had to be forced out, a second time. During America’s recent foreclosure crisis, with families across the country losing houses that were not just homes but repositories of memory, the specter of my late grandmother returned in force. Like her, many resisted or refused to give up. That such trauma has transpired against the backdrop of what seems like an ever-widening ideological divide in the country makes the tragedy of the situation even more acute.
I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, in a neighborhood built in the 1930s, one that was once suburban but is now more than a hundred blocks from the city’s newest suburbs, many of them carved out of cornfields or razed woodland. Returning to Omaha in 2010, after a thirteen-year absence, I was struck by the extent and character of the sprawl, the weird juxtaposition of agricultural land and McMansions standing uncomfortably alongside each other, small towns once remote from my childhood’s known world now no more than other neighborhoods in the city’s expanding metropolitan area.
At the remote western edge of this sprawl, I stumbled across a nineteenth-century farmhouse and barn still standing, flanked by vast homes of stucco and vinyl siding with artificial stone or prefabricated brick façades. The only trees were newly planted, replacing whatever shelterbelt there might have been, or simply occupying the space of land that once produced corn and now demands a different concentration of irrigation to nourish lawn and flowerbed in a part of the country routinely beset by draught.
As Fallen Land developed over the course of 2011 and 2012, I began to recognize that this novel about people clinging to houses that were no longer theirs was engaged in a much broader conversation about the state of America today, concerned with its deepening divisions, the pace of technological and environmental change, the staggering inequalities of income and education, and the way that racism and other hatreds continue to infect so much of the national dialogue, fueling our epidemic of senseless violence—not only against the land or the trees or our sense of our own history, but against ourselves.