Review: Drift Stumble Fall by M. Jonathon Lee

Title Drift Stumble Fall
Author M. Jonathon Lee
Genre Contemporary, Mental Health, Drama
Format Paperback
Page Length 310
Publication Date 12 Apr 2018
Publisher Hideaway Fall
Read Date Mar 2018
Rating 2.372273 stars – Not Recommended

Synopsis
Richard feels trapped in his hectic life of commitment and responsibility. From the daily mayhem of having young children, an exhausted wife and pushy in-laws who frequently outstay their welcome, Richards existence fills him with panic and resentment. The only place he can escape the dark cloud descending upon him is the bathroom, where he hides for hours on end, door locked, wondering how on earth he can escape.

Often staring out of his window, Richard enviously observes the tranquil life of Bill, his neighbour living in the bungalow across the road. From the outside, Bills world appears filled with comfort and peace. Yet underneath the apparent domestic bliss of both lives are lies, secrets, imperfections, sadness and suffering far greater than either could have imagined. Beneath the surface, a family tragedy has left Bill frozen in time and unable to move on. As he waits for a daughter who may never return, Bill watches Richards bustling family life and yearns for the joy it brings. As the two men watch each other from afar, it soon becomes apparent that other peoples lives are not always what they seem.

I have unpopular opinions about this. I’m the only person to give this less than three stars on Goodreads at the time of publishing this. I’ve spent a while considering if I should write and post this review. I don’t particularly enjoy writing 2 star reviews. I tweeted out something on the lines of ‘The struggle of writing a 2 star review’ and I had some people suggest that I contact the author directly to let him know what I disliked before posting the review. I’m not saying other people shouldn’t do that – you do you – but I would feel very uncomfortable doing that. It’s one thing to share my opinions here on my iddy biddy blog; it’s a whole different ball game to actively track down an author and tell them directly that I didn’t enjoy their work.

Let me start off by saying that this is not a bad story. It’s just one that I really struggled to connect with. Although, I do have a couple of issues that are a bit more than this, which I have detailed in the spoiler section below. I haven’t read any other books by this author, but I had heard great things about him. Some of the blogging folk I follow give great reviews on his books and I’ve read those reviews so I know he can write about mental health. I am someone who lives with a long term mental health illness (I try to be open and candid about this, it’s no secret). When I went in to this, I expected a heavy story. One that explores what it is like to live with mental health issues. I think this is what it tries to do, but for me personally, it fell flat in quite a number of areas.

On a quick slight side note (I promise I am getting on to the review!) this story does have a large mental health aspect to it, and so I have really struggled to put jokes into this review. I always try and put a few silly things into my reviews but every time I tried it here, it just felt wrong. So this review is a little more serious than my other ones. I will be back with silly over the top ranting/raving soon.

So, Drift Stumble Fall is a story about Richard who gets bored with his life so much so that he starts to plan his escape from his boring everyday life. Thing is, he has a wife (Lisa) and 2 kids so just buggering off is a little difficult. Across the road from Richard and Lisa lives Bill and Rosie, an elderly couple living a peaceful life. Richard looks on at Bill with envy, wishing he could also live a quiet life. What Richard doesn’t know is that Bill and Rosie’s life was frozen a number of years ago when they experienced a catastrophic family event. They have been unable to move on since then. During a visit from the in-laws to Richard (and the family) a snow storm closes the local roads and the in-laws are stuck with them for a few days.

A life of repetitive events. I am convinced that most people find comfort in the repetition of each day. The feeling of security that doing the same thing brings. Same. Same. Same. But not me. I’m different.

I liked the style of the novel. For the most, this is a first person narrative from the POV of Richard and we follow everything that happens with him throughout the day. Occasionally we are taken across the road for a chapter with Bill and Rosie which is written in a third person narrative. Richard purposefully tells us a bunch of boring everyday bits and so this style kept the story fresh in parts. It stops it from getting too boring.

Richard, our main protagonist, really frustrated me. I get that he is a man that is not in a good place in his life. But he is such a wet lettuce. I think the idea was to have him be an everyday lower middle class guy with a mundane office job so we could relate to him. But instead, he just came across as bland. He has no real interests or character quirks. I just found him instantly boring. Richard judges the life of Bill without really knowing him. It’s the mind of a foolish man. Maybe other people do look at others and instantly think they know every aspect of that person’s life, but it’s not a scenario I could relate to. Lisa is clearly suffering from depression. She essentially lives on her sofa, doing very little other than watching TV all day. She has a very clear case of being addicted to the TV. As much as I could sympathise with her, she is ultimately not a nice person. She constantly barks orders at everyone in a holier than thou kind of way and treats Richard like shit. I struggled to care about her. Richard and Lisa have 2 kids, a boy and a girl, and they are sweet and made me smile a number of times. At times they are bickering little shits, but that’s what kids do – it’s part of what makes them so great.

Bill and Rosie’s story really intrigued me. From their first chapter I could sense that everything is not as it seems on first appearance. I did not predict where their story was going and I really liked discovering their situation throughout. I feel it’s a shame that they don’t feature more prominently as I never found myself wanting to get back to Richard.

If you’ve read my other reviews you may have noticed that I like good dialogue. Dialogue is so important in any story for me. It can make or break my immersion so easily. I didn’t really like the dialogue through this. At times it was ok, and at times I really struggled with it. Particularly during the discussions with Richard, Lisa and the in-laws (whose names I’ve forgotten) the dialogue forces conflict into conversations and it doesn’t feel natural. It felt like it was crowbarred in to simply create tension for the sake of creating tension. I just got frustrated during these parts.

Richard makes his plan on how he can escape and disappear throughout the book. This was OK, but rather lackluster. It essentially consisted of him buying a notebook, reading an atlas (because google earth/maps apparently don’t exist?!), and checking bank accounts.

I want to discuss the ending. I really don’t like the ending for a number of reasons. But obvs there will be spoilers. So I made lil spoiler images so you can skip over them if you want.

Spoilers

Continuing with Richard’s plan – I never really felt like he was serious with it. I wanted him to do something more concrete than what he does. Something that would have left me thinking ‘Oh, he is going to follow through’. Him making his escape never felt like a real possibility throughout.

Richard decides to stay with his family in the end because he learns that his step-father is terminally ill and because Bill and Rosie die and this gives him some kind of new outlook on life. The problem is, nothing has changed. Neither Richard or Lisa have been through a positive life changing experience. Once the novelty of the situation wears off, Rich is going to find himself in the same situation he was at the start of the book. Lisa is going to continue to sit around in a haze of depression, treating people like crap. Nothing was resolved here. Why have I just read 300 pages of this story? I hate it when I get to the end of a book, and nothing of significance is different for the characters within. It just makes the whole story feel irrelevant.

I also have some issues in how mental health is portrayed here. Let me make it clear once again, these are my opinions and my feelings from reading the story. I understand that other people may have a different view. My understanding is that the author is a mental health advocate. I’m disappointed then that he wrote a story with this ending. I feel this story does nothing to help with breaking down the stigma attached to mental health illnesses and could even give harmful messages.

Lisa is in such a bad place at the start of this story (and throughout). There is nothing subtle here, she is clearly suffering with severe depression. But by the end, she has received no treatment or help whatsoever. Plus, adding to her issues, she is about to lose her father. Richard does nothing to help his wife who is so desperately in need of help. What we have here is a story that documents the devastating and debilitating effect of depression, not only on the ill person but also to those around them, in a very raw and real manner. I applaud Lee for doing that. But, Richard or Lisa’s parents should have done something to help Lisa. Richard does nothing. Her parents do nothing. We are shown that if we just ignore the symptoms of a loved one in need, things will all work out ok in the end. No. No they won’t. Things will escalate and get worse. And then people die.

The same issue occurs with Richard. It could (relatively easily) be argued that he is experiencing an episode of mild depression. But suddenly, over the period of a day, he just gets well again. His negative thoughts and apathy suddenly go away. This gets really close to being a message that if people just get a grip and stop being so negative they will overcome depression. Again, that is not the case and that is a harmful message to give people. Richard’s problems just felt trivial by the end. And I hate it when people trivilase a condition that kills so many people.

I know these are fictional characters, but when you write a story like this, it is so important to give a positive message. It is so far away from any reality that if we just ignore depression, one day the ill person will suddenly be well again. This a harmful message to be giving to people.

I’m conscious that this hit a very raw nerve with me and I really don’t want to come across like I disliked it for this reason. I do not dislike this ending because of the raw nerve. I dislike it because it is a harmful message to be publishing. Please don’t take this as an attack on Lee. It really isn’t. I don’t know the guy and I don’t have any hard feelings towards him. Unfortunately, I just feel like he created such a good opportunity to give positive advice to people and he dropped the ball with it.

SpoilersEnd

Overall, the concept of this story is great, but I struggled so much to connect with the characters and what was happening that I found myself bored reading it. If I had bought this book, I would probably have DNF’d it. At several points I felt like I was having to force myself to read it. But with all of that said, this is only my opinion and I have seen plenty of others say they really liked this, so please don’t let my thoughts put you off if this looked interesting to you.

Anyway, I’m off to buy a new notebook from amazon. Not to plot an escape, but just because I like notebooks! Until next time, Peace and Love.

I was sent a copy of this from the publisher. My thanks to Hideaway Fall and M. Jonathon Lee for this opportunity. Please don’t hate me. These are my honest thoughts of the book.

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5 Comments

  1. Excellent review even though we experienced this one differently! I love comparing conflicting views so much. I will say that as someone who fell inti a rut in married life and felt like they were drowning while managing depression, that Richard made sense to me. I would never have made the same choices, but I know I shut down and the dialog was ninexistent in my home. So it was all rather dull and boring. I think that aspect compelled me because I saw some familiarity. I interpreted the ending slightly different also. But I can easily see the issues you experienced and how others might. Excellent insight as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it’s brilliant that you published this review and you know what? I REALLY enjoyed reading it… it’s slightly opposing to my own experience with the book and maybe that’s why I like yours as it makes me see things from a different angle and that’s important! I did struggle with the ook as well at times- it was rather suffocating and in this state I was unable to recognize the fact that, as you point out, no one really got any help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Liz! Even though I didn’t enjoy this, I’ve read several reviews where people did like it and were able to relate to the subject. I think that’s a great thing. I love reading reviews, especially when they don’t match my own experience. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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