June 23, 2021
Blurb: First, it’s just a barely believable rumor: one person may have survived the midair explosion of a passenger jet on a cross-country course from Washington, DC, to San Francisco. But soon she becomes a national media sensation when “the Falling Woman,” as the press dubs her, is said to have been taken to a Wichita hospital—and then to have disappeared without a trace.
As a dedicated National Transportation Safety Board agent joins the search for clues, he becomes drawn into the woman’s moving and personal fight to keep secret the story of her survival, even from her own family, and possibly at risk to his own career.
The Falling Woman is a novel that asks compelling and controversial questions about the value of life and what should be sacrificed in the name of love.
This past weekend before I’d even picked up The Falling Woman by Richard Farrell, I read a New York Times article about Juliane Diller who, in 1971, fell two miles after the plane she was flying in broke apart in midair. She was saved by the cushioning of the dense Amazon canopy. So as I began reading The Falling Woman, I was aware that there was the possibility albeit miniscule that someone could survive falling to earth, if the circumstances were right.
Charlie Radford is looking for his break at NTSB. He is young, lacking in self-confidence, and chasing dreams of emulating his NTSB hero, a former fighter pilot who bucked the system but was excellent at his job. When a plane falls apart during a thunderstorm in Kansas, Charlie is sent there, certain that this could be the break he is looking for.
Erin Geraghty just received news that her pancreatic cancer has stalled. That should be good news, except that her death is a certainty, it’s just been put off for a bit. But she’s tired of the fight, tired of feeling like a former human being so she signs up for a cancer survivor’s retreat in San Francisco, hoping that a week away from everything would renew her. During the flight, Erin’s seat breaks away from the plane and she is falling. She survives but has she?
I am used to reading procedural mysteries in which a detective sorts through evidence in a logical manner and is forthright with the reader. After the rumor of a plane survivor comes to light, I found the reactions of the NTSB agents to be peculiar. None of them wanted to follow up the story. Even Charlie, the protagonist, waffles and walks away, which just struck me as odd. Isn’t this part of the job? Immediately interviewing a possible survivor regardless of whether they could or could not provide information on the crash? Is this the millennial work ethic in practice? His fear is that if he follows the lead, he will be a laughing stock. So? was my reaction. However, I suppose this was a plot device to allow the woman in question the time to disappear from the hospital. The next step in my mind was that Charlie would have taken the photos for those women whose bodies had not been identified yet and immediately ask the nurses and anyone else who had come into contact with her. I waited for about forty pages for this to happen. When it finally did, it tested my credulity. No nurse recognized this woman’s face in any of the photos? Knowing nurses, I found that hard to believe. Suffice to say, that at times I had issues with the way this investigation into the Falling Woman was handled and the lackluster way in which Charlie et al moved forward.
The best part of the novel for me was when Charlie finds Erin. The resulting conversations, Charlie’s attempt to understand why Erin wants to continue to be “dead” in the eyes of the world is some spell-binding stuff. Farrell writes the heck out of some of these passages. And the last question that Erin answers, that ends the book, is some of the best writing I’ve read in a long time. Amazing.
Straight-forward, lawyer-like, and completely human with all that entails, Erin was the most interesting character to me. She was not immediately a likable character, prickly and demanding at first, but she was the one I wanted to know more about. Her world-view and actions were compelling and I wish we had seen more of her after the plane crash. On the other hand, Charlie and his wife Wendy drove me nuts as they appeared to me to be weak and whiny and self-focused. Only one (extremely major) action on his part slightly redeemed him in my eyes
The Falling Woman is a novel that asks questions and I suspect that it will raise many too, making it a perfect novel for book clubs. What do we owe the people who love us? What does it mean to really live? How intertwined should work and life be?
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
4 out of 5 butterflies