Friday, July 20, 2018
Book Review: "Black Diamond Fall" by Joseph Olshan
Joseph Olshan's new novel, Black Diamond Fall is both a mystery and a somewhat elegiacal look at the passions and uncertainties of love, the challenges of coming to terms with your own sexuality, how grief and anger can consume us, and having to come to terms with the end of a relationship that you don't think should end. While I believe the book works better when it concentrates on the latter issues rather than the mystery component, the mystery is core to the characters' emotions.
Luc Flanders is a student at a small Vermont college. He is a guarded, complex young man whose life was changed after he suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was a teenager. One night, after playing hockey on a frozen pond with his roommates, he realizes he lost something important to him, so he goes back to the pond to find it. He encounters someone while at the pond, and never returns.
After ensuring he didn't fall through the ice that night, everyoneLuc's parents, his roommates, his ex-girlfriend, even the policecan't figure out what happened to Luc, although many have their suspicions, especially once they find out Luc had secretly been in a relationship with Sam Solomon, an architect closer in age to Luc's parents than him. While many knew that Luc was hiding something, it is a surprise to find he had been hiding something so significant.
Sam struggles to deal with the police interrogation related to Luc's disappearance and their relationship, and he doesn't appreciate the scrutiny and suspicion from total strangers as well as people he knows well. Sam didn't want the relationship with Luc to end, didn't understand why Luc was so dead set against accepting the truth about his sexuality, why he wanted to give up a chance to truly love and be loved the way he had always longed to.
When the home of famed poet Robert Frost, not far from the college campus, is vandalized, the police investigating the incident discover some interesting links between this crime and Luc's disappearance. Are the two crimes connected? Will finding out who is responsible for the vandalism lead them to Luc's whereabouts?
When the book focuses on Luc and Sam and their relationship, and the way those around them must come to terms with it, it is beautifully written, poignant, thought-provoking, and at times, emotional. You can feel the conflicts that Luc is dealing with, torn between accepting who he is, giving in to love, or trying to live a "normal" life. You can also feel the strength of Sam's grief even though he knew inherently their relationship might not last.
I felt the mystery components were still compelling, but I wanted more Sam and Luc. However, the chapters narrated by Luc's mother and a police detective investigating Luc's disappearance are definitely readable, and you hope that everything will be solved to your liking, that none of the characters you've come to care about are responsible for any of the bad things that happened.
Joseph Olshan is an immensely gifted storyteller. His novel Clara's Heart was made into a late-1980s movie with Whoopi Goldberg and Neil Patrick Harris, and I remember being utterly moved by Nightswimmer when I read it in 1994. I'm glad to see his talent is as strong as ever with Black Diamond Fall. While at times it feels like two books in one, the fact is, you can't stop reading either of them, and at the end, you're moved by the beauty of Olshan's writing.
NetGalley and Polis Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!