Heaven Should Fall
by Rebecca Coleman
Published by Harlequin MIRA
Genre: family, literature, adult
Available Sept. 25
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5 cupcakes
Some of us grow up wishing we were part of a family, even if we had one. In the case of Jill Wagner, she has no one. Her mother died in a shocking accident, her father has never been in the picture, and her grandparents are dead. So when Jill meets Cade Olmstead in college, she falls hard. Not just for Cade, but for the promise of what he represents.
First, there is his charm. As Jill acknowledges, Cade is good looking, intelligent, and has a certain sheen of smoothness. It helps that his chosen career is politics. His passion for Jill runs unabated, even in the midst of dire moments for the two of them. And he is ambitious, intently focused on getting a job with a politician for whom he campaigns.
But as with all bright shiny things, if you rub away the pretty exterior, you sometimes find tarnish and rust. In Cade’s case, he tries to cover it up by tanning. Yes, tanning. The boy spends copious amounts of time turning his pasty New Hampshire-bred skin into a more cosmetically desirable brown.
But Jill is in love, and even before she discovers she is pregnant, the two are engaged, with Jill envisioning the family she no longer has and Cade imagining the perfect political spouse. That pregnancy, however, changes the dynamic of their relationship. For one thing, Cade needs to get a job. When he can’t find one in their Maryland college town, he reluctantly – very reluctantly – packs up Jill and takes her to stay with his family for the summer.
This is the first time she meets them, because Cade didn’t bring her home with him for any previous holidays, believing that Christmas by herself on the deserted campus is better than spending it with his family. She has met his older brother Elias, recently home from an Army stint in Afghanistan.
It doesn’t take long for us to see why Cade avoided bringing Jill home as long as he did. His family is, in a word, nuts. And not in a lovable, eccentric kind of way. More in a fear-for-the-gene-pool kind of way.
Cade’s father, Eddy, debilitated from a series of strokes, nonetheless retains the meanness that helped drive Cade out of the state. Mother Leela appears to be accepting of her life, until Rebecca Coleman takes us into Leela’s mind and we discover that there is a lot more going on here than we thought. Sister Candy is the stereotypical ignorant, silly blonde; her husband Dodge is significantly older than she is and they have three rambunctious young sons.
Then there is Elias. Clearly he struggles with post traumatic stress disorder, but he has been left largely ignored by military physicians who attempt to “fix” him by prescribing various painkillers and mood stabilizers. We learn that Elias has been in love with local girl Piper since his teens; we also learn that Cade stole her from his brother, even impregnating her. As Elias and Jill’s relationship deepens and intensifies, we watch with our breaths held. Will Elias exact retribution?
Elias, you see, is the only member of the family with whom Jill forms a connection. Yes, she tries to bond with Leela, even hoping that Leela will become her mother, but it is Elias who Jill offers comfort and compassion. She may not know about Piper, but she certainly knows that Elias begins to form an attachment to her.
Tragedy strikes this family, and we see it coming. The way they react, though, surprises us. Dodge, unflinchingly presented as a wacko, manages to display some decency – that is until he senses weakness in others, which he exploits much the way he did Candy when she was a teenager.
We spend most of the book in Jill’s mind, although Coleman sends us into Cade’s and Leela’s as well. When we spend time with Elias, it is in the third person, as if his trauma prevents even us from getting close to him. As the family deals with the aftermath of the tragedy, we become even more convinced that Cade was right: Jill is better off away from these people.
This is an intricate, heavy book, that is interesting and well written. Those of you who thought that white supremacists and right wing militias exist only in the south and midwest might be surprised to find that they rage in New England as well. Coleman uses them here to spotlight the plight of PTSD. If the Army overlooks its faithful servants, then what is there to stop subversive individuals from exploiting these people?
As for Jill, we alternately want to scream at her and protect her. She mistakes self-help mumbo jumbo for practical advice, and her desperation to be part of a family causes her to ignore some important signs of instability, both within Cade and his family.
Sometimes, Rebecca Coleman seems to say, the adage is true: be careful what you wish for.