Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Michael Stellman
Length: 7 hours, 33 minutes
In the wake of his mother’s death, the only person who ever loved him or made him feel valued, Josh is a raw nerve and one push too many sees him living on the streets. Grief turns to despair and Josh decides to take the trip he and his mother never got to make—to go north and see the fall leaves. He’ll see the leaves then say goodbye to her and a life filled with suffering when the winter snows come.
Having spent most of his life feeling like a failure and struggling to prove himself a “man’s man” to the soundtrack of jeers of fairy and faggot from his older brothers, Mark believed joining the Marines would be the ultimate proof of his manhood. Instead, he’s left with definitive proof that he’s gay; haunted by grief, loss, and the horrors of war; and feeling even more estranged from his family. Having passed Josh on the road and recognizing the dead look in his eyes, when Mark discovers Josh camped out under a bridge near the cabin he rents, he can’t stop himself from trying to help Josh even though he feels like the last person qualified to do so.
With Mark desperately needing help on the house painting job he’s doing for sweet Mrs. Fisher, he sees an opportunity to offer Josh shelter and a way to earn money. As Mark slowly becomes aware of just how vulnerable Josh is, he makes it his mission to create stability for him. Soon, the two find the companionship and understanding in one another that they desperately need, and while Mark tries to deny their chemistry, they eventually find themselves sexually involved and wrapped in a cocoon of happiness. Unfortunately, the real world, in the form of Mark’s status as a closeted man with no plans of coming out, and Josh’s depression, grief, and youth force them to face their issues or lose what they love.
Considering that Falling Down deals with some pretty heavy topics, including depression, suicidal thoughts, and PTSD, Eli Easton manages to handle it all with a very light touch, so the story is not very dark. I can see this book being accessible and enjoyable to those readers who normally avoid stories with MCs dealing with depression. I feel Easton was able to draw me into Josh’s depression—how he experiences it, how it affects his thoughts and mood—without it being overwhelming. Easton also does a good job differentiating between being depressed and being suicidal and also how having suicidal thoughts doesn’t necessarily mean a person wants to die. To me, Easton’s characterization of Josh is subtle and very well done. He is relatable and real, and not overwrought or overly angsty.
While, I didn’t connect with Mark’s character as much as Josh’s, I did like him; I just have a hard time separating my feelings about Mark from what I didn’t necessarily like about how the story transitioned into their romance. To me, their friendship felt organic and natural. They were hanging out, building trust, etc. Then they are placed in a situation where I feel like Mark is forced to explore their sexual attraction, and all the care Mark takes with Josh’s mental health fades away the more sex they have. Thus, when they reach the inevitable crisis point, he’s all, “but . . . but, I thought we were happy, why you mad, bro?” Apparently, he thinks his peen is magical because he met Josh a month ago, and expected him to go from homeless and suicidal to completely stable from a few weeks in a relationship with him. However, Mark’s behavior does highlight how no one can “save” another person from depression. That was another reason the romance in this book was a bit iffy for me. Both Mark and Josh needed emotional stability they couldn’t get solely from one another, so the epilogue, which takes place a year in the future, definitely helps with this.
As for the narration, I think Michael Stellman is a good choice for narrator. Stylistically, I’ve always found his basic narrative voice pleasing. It is smooth, with just enough cadence and inflection to give flow to the sentences and emotional heft where necessary without sounding bored and dull when it’s not. He’s also generally good at conveying emotion during most scenes that require them and Falling Down is no exception. Depending on what does or does not bother you as an audio listener, there are quite a few proofing errors (particularly with chapter spacing) and there is not much voice differentiation between Josh and Mark, except for Mark’s hit or miss Concord, NH accent (Bostonian to my naïve Southern ears). Despite the technical issues, Stellman does portray the warmth and emotions of a story about hope and the beauty in the life around us very well, and I would recommend giving it a listen.