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Review: From Where I Fell by Susan Johnson

From Where I Fell 
Susan Johnson
Allen & Unwin
2021, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

An anguished email from Pamela Robinson in Australia to her ex-husband in Paris accidentally ends up in the inbox of New York State teacher Chrisanthi Woods. Chrisanthi is sympathetic to Pamela’s struggles and the women begin to tell each other the stories and secrets of their lives.

Pamela, responsible for raising her three sons, must re-invent the meaning of home following her divorce, and Chrisanthi, her dreams long dampened, must find home by leaving it. Temperamental opposites, their emails turn into an exhilarating and provocative exchange of love, loss and fresh beginnings, by turns amusing, frank and confronting.

I love epistolary novels, I always have. This is written entirely as emails back and forth between Pamela, a recently divorced woman living in Australia trying to raise her three sons with various challenges, and Chris (short for Chrisanthi). Chris is a woman who lives in New York who struggles with her disapproving Greek mother and who finds herself involved with the lives of the various people she crosses paths with. Pamela accidentally emails Chris thinking it’s the email address of her ex-husband and when Chris replies to gently tell her she has the wrong address, Pamela keeps emailing her anyway.

I think there’s something about a crossed connection like this, accidentally emailing the wrong person and then pouring out your troubles to them. They’re anonymous, they don’t know you or anything about you, have no preconceived ideas and don’t need to mollycoddle you either. Chris is half a world away, Pamela doesn’t know her or really anything about her and even whatever Chris tells her could not necessarily be the truth. But for Pamela, who has recently moved back to Australia with her three boys (two teens and a younger one, around eight) who were all born overseas, she has little in the way of support. She’s really struggling with her eldest child in particular, who has not taken the divorce and move very well. In Chris, Pamela doesn’t always find a sympathetic ear, but she does find someone she can confide in unfiltered. She doesn’t need to sugarcoat things or hide her true feelings. And Pamela has a lot of feelings.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Pamela, she’s chosen to end her marriage to Chris (of the same name as the person she ends up emailing) and is now basically solo-parenting as he’s stayed behind in France. Chris (the ex-husband) seems to deeply resent Pamela and is resisting all her attempts at communication, which made me feel for her as she does desperately need some help, particularly with Raf, their eldest, who is 16. Even if Chris has a lot of negative feelings towards Pamela over the marriage, what she’s going through in parenting is very difficult and honestly, he should be assisting her, especially when things take a very bad turn. Pamela has a lot going on, she still has a lot of complex feelings over the ending of the marriage and she’s very given to overthinking and overanalysing and literally reexamining every decision she’s ever made or thought she’s ever had.

On the other hand, the Chris-of-the-emails seems very different. She’s often short with Pamela, terse at times, and has little patience for some of Pamela’s ramblings about her marriage and decisions. She seems very practical although the further into the communication we get, the more Chris lets little snippets of herself and her life slip, although she never dives as deeply into sharing as Pamela does, I don’t think. She shares things but not necessarily those deep thoughts and feelings. You have to piece her thoughts and feelings together mostly from the things she shares. Whereas Pamela is an open book, every thought she has tumbling out of her brain and through her fingers into the email.

Because they do not know each other, they do not know each other’s sensitive subjects, things best left alone or the things that will trigger each other, so it’s sometimes a communication that offends or touches on things that the other is not yet ready to hear or cannot talk about. Chris in particular, is quite blunt, very no-nonsense whereas Pamela comes across much more of a dreamer in her emails, and as I mentioned, very given to rambling on about whether or not she’s done the right thing. She’s very open almost immediately, where as Chris is much more closed at first, has to be drawn out by Pamela, almost coaxed into sharing things about herself and her life.

I sped through this in an afternoon, the format is so inherently readable and getting to know both women felt so easy. I became so invested in both their lives – poor Pamela and the struggles with sons who are bigger, stronger than she is and with little authority to exude over them. With two sons myself (one of whom will be a teenager this year) I’m always drawn into stories about the ups and downs of parenting. Pamela has so much love for her sons (even when some do little to deserve it, frankly) and you can tell that she’s so grateful for the outlet of being able to email Chris. And Chris on the other hand, is a much harder to person to feel like you’re getting to ‘know’ but I was invested in the story of her mother and the neighbour and the young girls from Syria that she was helping. And even more enjoyable was Chris slowly opening herself up to a place of trust with Pamela, where she felt she could tell her more intimate things. Pamela leaps in right away but Chris is much more of a slow burn to confession.

I really enjoyed this. And I’m still thinking about the ending.


Book #33 of 2021

From Where I Fell is book #17 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

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