Rebecca Coleman’s haunting second novel, Heaven Should Fall, begins innocently enough: Jill Wagner’s otherwise affable and charismatic boyfriend, Cade Olmstead, does not want to introduce her to his family. Still reeling from the death of her own mother, Jill can’t help but feel rejected by this uncharacteristic refusal. But when the young college couple discovers that Jill is pregnant, Cade concedes that their best option is to retreat to the Olmstead family farm.

Once they arrive, Cade’s reasons for keeping Jill away become dismally clear. In place of the domestic togetherness she has been craving she finds a toxic environment choked with long-buried secrets and bitter animosity. Cade’s family tiptoes around the reminders of the past to simply make it through each day—mother Leela, father Eddy, sister Candy and brother Elias are all beyond the reach of Jill’s good intentions.

With her due date looming, Jill takes a special shine to Elias, a combat veteran who’s come home riddled with the horrific memories of his time in Afghanistan. But not even the government Elias pledged his life to can help him, and as he sinks deeper into the cruel depths of post-traumatic stress disorder, Jill notices an unsettling change in Cade’s behavior as well. When an unspeakable tragedy descends upon the family, she fears it will be just enough to push Cade over the edge.

While the Olmsteads’ grim story is told through the separate perspectives of the family members themselves, only the voice of Jill resonates with uncorrupted clarity. The landscape Coleman has created here is strikingly bleak. Instead of bells and whistles, she relies on substance and atmosphere to build her story; her language is subdued, but the words cut deeply. She crafts each character with a love that is genuine and sometimes fearful, pulling helpless readers headlong into their struggles. As the heartbreak spreading through this family rots away to reveal something sinister, it is impossible to turn away.

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