Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Light Fell; Evan Fallenberg

Written by Lauren Glick
Light Fell is an absorbing, moving book about being true to yourself, being part of a family, and the tensions between these two aspects of life. When Joseph leaves his young wife and five young sons for Rabbi Yoel Rosenzweig, the erudite and passionate Torah thinker with whom he’s fallen in love, he makes a certain long-awaited peace within himself while tearing a deep gash into the fabric of his family. The book begins with Joseph preparing to celebrate his 50th birthday by hosting his sons, from whom he’s become estranged over the course of the two decades since he left them. The story then takes us back in time to Joseph’s ill fated but intense affair with Rabbi Rosenzweig and the events that unfold, bringing him to this anxiously anticipated weekend celebration.

This is a quick read, but the writing is intelligent and careful, and often very lovely. Fallenberg is great at describing things—in some cases, perhaps too much so. We learn in the first few pages of the book that Joseph plans to woo his sons back into his life by plying them with the foods that they love. We certainly get a crystalline picture of the care with which Joseph approaches everything, not to mention the dishes he will serve. Yet, with all of the crucial plot information that is shared in these introductory pages, it is not clear why we’re getting paragraph after paragraph of detail about the menu he’s planning, as well-written and stimulating as it is. And though much of the description is believable—particularly insights into the workings of family and the rhythm and imagery of life in Israel—it’s not consistent; Joseph’s thoughtful and neurotic temperament is very well-developed, yet the passage where he leaves home is incredibly abrupt.

Still, Light Fell is an ambitious first novel with more successes than failures. Part of what makes Fallenberg’s debut so interesting is that it turns the family dynamic around; it centers on the “rebellion” of a father and the way his wife and sons deal with his decision to do the one thing that is most difficult for each of us: to be ourselves. In turning that dynamic around, it forces us to realize our parents as people and to think about our responsibilities as children. The parent-child relationship is not a one-way street. And in those instances when we’re required to play a role outside of the typical, we see most starkly the ties that bond us in a family, the depth of love, and the limitless ability to understand and forgive. It’s these themes that Fallenberg so adeptly covers, culminating in a revealing and incredibly touching moment between Joseph and his oldest son, which opens the door to yet a new chapter in the lives of these well-drawn characters.

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