Books: Friends to the Rescue

November 30, 2011


Falling Together begins with a mystery but it’s less of a detective story and more of a spiritual journey about excavating grief, recovering lost friendships, and ultimately finding happiness.

During college, Pen, Will, and Cat were inseparable friends
who shared a sacred bond and a profound understanding of one another. After Cat
gets marries and moves away, this unhinges the trio, and Pen and Will are
unable to maintain a friendship without their center. They make a pact never
to enter each other’s lives again. Six years later, we see that Pen is a single
mother in an on-again, off-again relationship with a married man, unhappy with
her career, and grieving the death of her father. Will is now a children’s author
who lives in isolation, copes with his recovering alcoholic mother, and still
carries hatred for his now absent, emotionally abusive father. The ghost of
their past friendship continues to haunt them, neither of whom can seem to move
on. But then they both receive a distressing email from the estranged Cat
asking for help, and they jump at the chance to reconnect at their reunion. We
learn from Cat’s distraught husband that Cat has vanished with no clues as to
her whereabouts.

Pen and Will slowly reenter one another’s lives and as they
begin the painful process of rekindling their old friendship and investigating
Cat’s disappearance. Their search for her leads them on a journey halfway
around the world to the Philippines.

Though we get to mine the inner thoughts of Pen and Will, we
don’t really get to see who Cat is except in flashbacks and through the
idealized lenses of Will and Pen. They keep on saying she is
special but you don’t really see it so it’s difficult to rationalize why they
would travel halfway around the world to find her. Their quixotic journey seems
doomed. The author admits that she wanted to write about the Philippines
and you can tell she is charmed by the country in her vivid descriptions of the
beauty of a coral reef, the joie de vivre captured in a jeepney, and the wisdom
of the lolas (grandmothers), but unfortunately all of that happens in the final
quarter of the novel. I wish she had written about the Philippines from the beginning
instead of creating this convoluted reason for her characters to get there.


  Photo of the author by Tisa Della Volpe

Falling Together
aligns itself with other novels in which self-actualization occurs during third
world travels -- big epiphanies always seem to happen because third world folks
have some “ancient wisdom” which teaches them how to live and that can be a
little cliché.

This book might appeal to readers who enjoy stories about
friendships, family, and the profound impact that people can have on your lives.
There’s also a heartfelt exploration of romance and it had an emotionally
satisfying and comforting ending where things turn out the way they are
“supposed” to turn out.

But some readers might find the ending too predictable, the
characters too earnest, and the dialogue too precious. Pen’s interjections of
“holy clucks” make her sound immature. As the main character, she’s a little
boring, a bit whiny, too good ... and
I found her passivity irritating. De Los Santos
is interested in exploring the emotional states of the characters but they all
need some time with a therapist and a life coach.

This book is a meditation on how we allow unhappiness to
sneak up and overtake us, and the take-home is we need to live in the moment,
appreciate what we have, and love. Though these lessons are thoughtfully
considered, their execution by the characters falls flat.

Jenny Yap is a
lecturer in the English Department at California State University, East Bay.
People tell her she would make a great therapist and life coach.