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Girls Fall Down

3.23  ·  Rating Details  ·  241 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
A girl faints in the Toronto subway. Her friends are taken to the hospital with unexplained rashes; they complain about a funny smell in the subway. Swarms of police arrive, and then the hazmat team. Panic ripples through the city, and words like poisoning and terrorism become airborne. Soon, people are collapsing all over the city in subways and streetcars and malls, alwa ...more
ebook, 272 pages
Published April 14th 2004 by Coach House Books
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Maggie Helwig's novel was selected as the 2012 One Book Toronto, and it is a textbook example of a City Novel; its characters are always in Toronto, on its streets and in its neighborhoods, travel on its metro and see its landmarks, dine at its cafes and restaurants. The novel will definitely appeal to Torontonians, who will recognize the familiar landmarks, but also to those of us who have never been there.

Besides being a novelist Hedwig is also a poet, and writes lyrically about the city - suc
Rachel Brown
Jul 26, 2012 Rachel Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mainstream, canada
Like Robert Altman's films Nashville and Short Cuts and Paul Thomas Anderson's less impressive Magnolia, this novel is structured around an event which affects a large number of people, all of whom are connected to each other, sometimes without realizing it. This sort of story tends to be a social critique of the ways in which society is messed up, while the structure itself makes the point that we are all connected (and ought to behave with that in mind.)

I particularly enjoy this sort of story.
May 28, 2012 Stephanie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to love this book. I liked the idea and loved that it was so Toronto focused. Unfortunately in making this book Toronto focused also saw its downfall. Writing about the city and it's landmarks and streets took over the book and seriously distracted from the actual story. You ended up just hearing about the streets they were on and not what was happening. It didn't help that I just couldn't care about the main character. I wish I could have loved it and finished it.
Tina Siegel
Apr 30, 2012 Tina Siegel rated it it was ok
The infrastructure is good - this could have been a compelling story. Unfortunately, the authorial voice is completely intrusive and overbearing. I didn't forget for a second that there was a writer behind the words. The actual prose isn't bad, but there are attempts at poetry (Helwig is a poet, after all) which are so forced and obvious that I cringed (ie. 'she was his person crack-cocaine').

I also doubt that anyone outside the city of Toronto has a hope of getting past the first five pages. H
Shelly Sanders
Mar 06, 2012 Shelly Sanders rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subtlelty of Helwig's writing makes this a beautiful read, with seamless transitions from the paranoia of the aftermath of 9-11, to the fear of upcoming health crises, to the complicated love between two scarred individuals.

Helwig's poetic expertise was an essential element of this novel; her well-chosen words paint vivid scenes and depict the nuances of her characters, making the setting and people real and intriguing.

"Even the homeless and the outcasts travel downwards when they can, into
Aban (Aby)
The novel takes place in Toronto, with a girl collapsing on a subway train. The cause for her collapse, and the subsequent collapse of other people, is unknown. People's fears are aroused and their thoughts turn to terrorism, or disease, or both. This is the background to an unusual love story . . . that of Alex, a photographer whose eyesight is failing because of his diabetes, and Susie, with whom Alex had (in the past) had a brief affair and who has re-appeared in his life.

There aspects of the
This book seeped into me, as if through skin and under fingernails, and sunk a deep, heavy mood in me. In the days I read it, I felt sadder, dirtier, depressed.

The author has published poetry, which goes a long way to explain the fluidity and perceptiveness of the language in the book. I took care to read each sentence slowly, to make sure I got the full impact of an unusual but *right* adjective. Sometimes I'd look up just to soak up a reaction. The structure too is excellent.

The story is a...
Angela Montgomery
Sep 12, 2012 Angela Montgomery rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More like a 3 1/2 stars. The book is beautifully written -- you can tell the writer is a poet -- but it sprawls. The connection between the main characters and the interesting premise is tenuous and only revealed at the end. It is unclear to me what Alex sees in Suzie. She's unpleasant. He is supposed to be a reserved character, but she is prickly for no obvious reason. Yes, she has a brother with mental illness, but it's not an excuse for crapping on all your relationships. Somehow the book mak ...more
May 23, 2012 Kendra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
This book would have benefitted from the inclusion of a map of Toronto for reference. The novel was an homage to the city and location was a central feature to the plot. The characters movements around the city (arguably a character in itself) are charted in minute detail--which bus was taken, at which street he de-boarded, and so forth. Having lived in Toronto for three years, I understood all the locational references, and they enriched my understanding of this quietly suspenseful novel. Well ...more
Jun 26, 2008 Alexis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book immensely. Helwig writes beautifully, and the subject matter was unique. She manages to weave together a story about two people with a romantic past, and terrorist attacks in a Toronto subway. THe city of Toronto is lovingly described, and it becomes like a character in the book. This is an urban tale, full of shattered city characters, realistic dialogue, and a sense of urgency that moves the story along.
Strong start, good middle but even though the book lagged a bit in pacing at the end a really good read! The social interconnections between people
who don't know each other and the city of Toronto itself feature prominently.

Well done!
Sarah SE
Jan 01, 2015 Sarah SE rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indie-publishers
A gorgeously written novel; I loved the writing on every page. You can tell Helwig's a poet; her prose is near perfect. Highly recommend this one, especially if you're at all familiar with Toronto.
Fathima Cader
Aug 09, 2009 Fathima Cader rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-buy
it's a discomfiting experience, always, reading the books you wanted to write.
Aug 18, 2008 Lesliemae rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people on the TTC
Recommended to Lesliemae by: Andrew Lesk
Sucked me in immediately then petered out by the end. Despite descriptions of Toronto that give the impression that the author really understands and feels akin to Toronto there is definitely an undercurrent that leaves no doubt that this novel is not about "Toronto the good". That is, however, not to say that the book is flawed, it feels out those frequently overlooked, non-trendy, unpleasant cracks and gutters that are all over Toronto. Churches that double as soup kitchens, the mentally ill w ...more
Nick Fagerlund
May 20, 2013 Nick Fagerlund rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good lord, I enjoyed this book INTENSELY. It's sour and dark, a swirl of hot and cold.

It's about the city of Toronto, sort of, kind of. It's actually about two old flames who meet again after being long apart, and about the existentially frightening problems they're each dealing with. But the city is the POV for a large chunk of the story, and the city functions as a character, as a third old flame dealing with existentially frightening problems of its own (including the titular mass psychogenic
Apr 26, 2012 Nina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Toronto One Book 2012

Notable quotes:

pg. 89 "He did remember waking up, not knowing why he was in that bed but knowing he had gone somehow way too far. That whatever he had done, it had been partly because she was there, because she was all sugar and danger to him, and he pushed every limit when he was near her."

pg. 91 " He felt the whole shape of the past trembling in his mind, like a picture turning animated, in jerky stop-motion."

pg. 101 "... that dangerous maze of emotion and memory."

pg. 10
Stephen Wong
Mar 28, 2012 Stephen Wong rated it really liked it
There are two to three, even four, kernels of hard truths set down in Maggie Helwig's Girls Fall Down, a novel that takes place in the figurative underside of town. It is Toronto under the pavement, under the railway bridge, under the skin, beneath the ordinary kindnesses, a coming blindness, seeking beyond the inscrutability of tentative relationships coursing through its veins. The book takes the reader along for a hard look at "girls falling down", which becomes this idea of a subliminal real ...more
Mar 22, 2012 Vicki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was Toronto's "one book" for 2012. It was definitely a book about Toronto. The author loved to identify exactly where the characters were at every point. They didn't walk somewhere -- they walked to a specific, named corner. I didn't really see the point of that -- it might have helped evoke a sense of place for those familiar with Toronto, but it just read strangely IMO. Was she just trying really, really hard to make this a "Toronto novel"?

When the book started, I was afraid that she coul
A girl smells roses and gets sick on the Toronto subway. Initially, people assume she has some underlying medical condition. But as more people fall, accusations of bioterrorism, poison gas, and pandemics start to fly. Against this backdrop, Alex, a hospital photographer, reunites with the girl he loved in his 20s.

Okay, I’m going to get this out of the way now in the hopes that I’ll prevent myself from gushing too much: the prose is gorgeous. Maggie Helwig is a poet, and it shows. There’s a scen
Apr 01, 2012 Visda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A group of young girls ride the train, having just left the park. They were having a conversation: "No, but I think monkeys are more morally superior than people, because monkeys don't use landmines and stuff, do they?" Zoe was saying, when they see the man; dirty, skinny sitting on the bench and talking to himself. Later, on the subway, they fall. And this is followed by a series of falling across town. Parents showing up at hospitals with sick kids. Middle-aged men with cases of cardiac episo ...more
Nov 09, 2013 Jennyb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After a trip to Toronto, I went on a little Canadian reading spree, and Helwig’s book is one of my favorites from that spree. It’s a story with three parts, that don’t seem to fit together. First there’s Alex, a photographer losing his sight to diabetic complications. Before his sight is gone, he combs the city to capture his vision of Toronto. He encounters an old girlfriend, combing the city in search of her missing schizophrenic brother. This is set against the backdrop of people fainting in ...more
Adam Dunn
An interesting concept and an interesting story that fails in a way to come together in the end.

The story is clear and the writing concise, but in the end the author turns it into a more abstract finish, where one is left to pick out the pieces that can be understood and guess at the others - to assign your own level of meaning with the clues given.

I could see if the writing had been clouded with mystery and symbolism before the end, but it really wasn't. So I'm left with the pieces I can unders
Kathy Mcdonald
This is definitely not the kind of book I would usually read. But it's the "One Book Community Read for 2012" and my librarian recommended it so I thought I'd give it a try. It's beautifully written and is set in Toronto which is described intimately and so well that I kept going. I wanted to know what was going to happen - there was some resolution to the mystery of why the Girls Fall Down, but mostly it's left to the reader to figure out what happened. Maybe the main point is that there are no ...more
Zophia B
Mar 31, 2013 Zophia B rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
This book is a tricky one. It's a poetic piece for sure, and it had its moments, but I feel like the poetic quality itself slowed the plot down to the point that reading the book just wasn't desirable anymore. I literally had this book for two months because every time I put it down it would take me days to get back to it. Reading it felt like a chore after a while (although it had a strong start and an okay ending, the middle was much too slow for my liking).

Cons: slow plot, a bit too poetic, a
Juxtaposes the story of a photographer who reconnects with a woman he was in love with years before with a mysterious 'epidemic' in the city in which seemingly unconnected people collapse in public places like the subway. Sort of a 3.5. I like reading books set in Toronto and spotting places I know or learning of places I didn't know before, so I enjoyed the setting here. Helwig's constant interjection of place names, directions and specific locations was intrusive, however, and it took me some ...more
Aug 09, 2014 Deb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't decide how I feel about this book. I loved it and loved her writing style. And her characters had such depth that I really 'got' them. But I also found it frustrating at times with it's lack of direct focus. The very specific Toronto references were very cool though and made the book much more fun to read. Overall I enjoyed it.
Victoria Shepherd
Unabashedly set in Toronto, this modern evocation of the Salem witch panic can't decide who the protagonist is.
Jun 10, 2012 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
This novel completely enthralled me. Author Maggie Helwig's writing is beautifully poetic, and she very brilliantly weaves a rather twisted love story across the backdrop of a Toronto-gone-wrong. Toronto itself is just as much a character in this novel as main characters Alex and Susie-Paul – but it's a Toronto that's beginning to fall apart at the hands of an unknown contagion that's spreading fear amongst its citizens. Torontonians will love this book for all its detailed local references, whi ...more
Nov 26, 2015 Soni rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Whaaaaat... I'm so confused?!

I wanted to read this book since it is set in Toronto and I love reading about familiar places. The story itself was random and hard to understand. I spent the entire book wondering why the girls fell down? It is never really addressed. Nor do I really understand or connect with Alex's or Susie's lonely and sad characters.
A photographer who is losing his vision tried to capture the city of Toronto in its many manifestations, its people, its hidden and unhidden niches, the quirks and moods of its crowds and commuters. In the process, we are made aware of the vulnerable in the city, the homeless, the mentally ill, the sick. All this is knit together into a story that highlighted the mood of a bustling metropolis that is in itself vulnerable to attack, psychological or biological, real or imagined. A fascinating rea ...more
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“So it was like that now, catastrophe inevitable at the most empty moments. Everyone waiting, almost wanting it, a secret, guilty desire for meaning. Their time in history made significant for once by that distant wall of black cloud.” 0 likes
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