For a more diplomatic review, please see the post at Hyphen
Falling Together has the elements to make a good novel: a talented writer who excels at parsing grief and unhappiness, a lesson about the value of living in the moment and appreciating what we have, and an important warning—unhappiness lurks everywhere and we shouldn’t let it get the best of us. But it ended up being too sincere and cheesy. There was a predictable happy fairytale ending where all the lose ends are tied up but the author unnecessarily attempts to stir up drama in the final ten pages before restoring everything back to the way it was.
Three inseparable college friends separate post-college, they promise to never get involved in each others' lives, and six years later they’re all unhappy. The main character, Pen, is a single mother chasing after a married man, stuck in a dead-end job, and fixated on the absence of her dead father. Will has anger management issues because of his emotionally abusive father and his mother is on the wagon (maybe) and is dating a man old enough to be her son. Cat has run away from an unsatisfying marriage with her dopey husband, Jason, but doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going which leads Pen, Will, Jason, and Pen’s five year old daughter to pack their bags for exotic locales to find her. Sounds convoluted doesn’t it? I had trouble understanding why this motley crew would go chasing after someone who doesn’t want to be found. The author admittedly says she was wanted to write about the Philippines so the book seemed a little bit like a vehicle for reconnecting with her heritage and an excuse to recount her travels.
review: You can tell she is charmed by the country in her vivid descriptions of the beauty of a coral reef, the joie de vivre captured in a jeepney, and the wisdom of the lolas (grandmothers), but unfortunately all of that happens in the final quarter of the novel. I wish she wrote about the Philippines from the beginning instead of creating this convoluted reason for her characters to get there. Falling Together aligns itself with other novels in which self actualization occurs during third world travels—big epiphanies always seem to happen because third world folks have some “ancient wisdom” which teaches them how to live and that can be a little cliché.
De los Santos wanted us to fall in love with Pen and Will because she wrote some good lines for them and tried to make them sound snappy and witty but I found their dialogue too earnest and I didn’t really care about them. Pen says “holy cluck” a lot and it makes her sound immature. Perhaps she’s never been able to move into adulthood because the loss of her friends stunted her development but I don’t think De los Santos intended it to sound that way. I was also upset at Pen because she said Will could have “saved her” from her grief and that made me cringe. Why couldn’t she have saved herself? I wanted to give her a swift kick in the ass and tell her to stop being so passive and whiny.
I learned that when you and your best friends have such a freakishly strong bond that you need to move away from them to give your marriage a chance, that friendship is probably a little effed-up.