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Arnold Falls

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A quirky ensemble piece, with memorable characters, budding and lifelong friendships and a sharp, good-natured sense of humour throughout.

Synopsis

Given the choice of go big or go home, nine times out of ten the townspeople of Arnold Falls will go home, get back into their house slippers, and forget about the whole thing, whatever the whole thing was this time. Tempests great and small (mostly small) are always brewing in this tiny, upstate hamlet where half of the residents are fighting to preserve Arnold Falls as it was in its red-light-district heyday, half are up to no good, and another half are sleeping it off. And that math is correct.

Arnold Falls is a novel that tips its hat to Armistead Maupin and P. G. Wodehouse, creating a world in which food, music, friendship, love, and tending your own garden are connected in surprising ways.

I was attracted to Arnold Falls, Charlie Suisman’s debut novel, by the nods to Armistead Maupin and P.G. Wodehouse in the synopsis, and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a novel featuring a quirky ensemble cast, with memorable characters and a sharp, good-natured sense of humour.


Arnold Falls focuses on the lead-up to the mayoral elections in the hamlet of Arnold Falls, a location owing its past prosperity to its red-light activities and its present largely to Clagger, a dubious-sounding illicit alcoholic drink. The references to the town are rich with the self-deprecating humour often found in residents of small, backwater places, and although the names and signposts throughout the novel are clearly US-based, I had no difficulty in relating to it as a UK small town survivor.

Protagonist Jeebie is likeable, quick-witted and somewhat romantically clueless, according to his closest friends, and there’s a subtly portrayed will-they-won’t-they romance between Jeebie and Will, a talented cartoonist who works in the local farmers’ market. The scenes between Jeebie and Will rarely take centre stage, showing instead a reticence for grand gestures and a shyness which had me rooting for them.


Some of the best scenes in Arnold Falls feature friendships between the various characters. The dialogue between Jeebie and budding-best-friend Nelle sparkles with life, illustrating the author’s talent for capturing in few words the essence of real friendship, and there are little touches throughout the novel showing connections and concerns between characters.


The mayoral contest, being fought between current mayor Rufus and Jeebie’s friend Jenny, serves to represent different conflicts of interest for the town, including business and profit versus conservation, and traditional seats of power versus progression and change. It's all brought to life by the humour, which ranges from witty exchanges between characters to full-on slapstick.


Arnold Falls reminds me of one of those independent movies that come along every so often, abandoning the quest for the twistiest plot in favour of taking a closer focus on the lives of some intriguing characters. It combines timeless elements (the small town themes and the battle between good and misguided) and modern ones (refreshingly, both LGBT and older people seem to be universally valued in Arnold Falls). With its broad range of characters, Arnold Falls feels like it could be the first in a series, and I’d be more than happy to meet this cast again in a future adventure. 

Reviewed by

I'm an avid reader and writer with a preference for literary fiction, although I'm also partial to some dystopian and page-turning crime fiction. I have a PhD in Psychology and enjoy reviewing psychology and social science titles, as well as fiction with a strong psychological element.

Synopsis

Given the choice of go big or go home, nine times out of ten the townspeople of Arnold Falls will go home, get back into their house slippers, and forget about the whole thing, whatever the whole thing was this time. Tempests great and small (mostly small) are always brewing in this tiny, upstate hamlet where half of the residents are fighting to preserve Arnold Falls as it was in its red-light-district heyday, half are up to no good, and another half are sleeping it off. And that math is correct.

Arnold Falls is a novel that tips its hat to Armistead Maupin and P. G. Wodehouse, creating a world in which food, music, friendship, love, and tending your own garden are connected in surprising ways.

It’s a good forty minutes until sunrise and the roads of Arnold Falls are empty, except for one silver Rascal mobility scooter making its way toward the courthouse. 


Stopping at the corner of the park, Dubsack Polatino hops off his ride, singing a pidgin Italian version of “O Mio Babbino Caro”—“O mio brand-new caro, mi race car, è bello bello”—as he walks over to the “Jenny Jagoda for Mayor!” lawn sign. After pulling it out of the ground, he returns to his scooter with the sign and stake, singing in full grand-tenor mode, “Vo’andare with Portia de Rossi,” narrowly missing the actual lyric. 


He drives along the sidewalk until he arrives at the next sign. Same routine, again and again, until the Jagoda signs are gone and only ‘Rufus for Mayor’ signs remain. He surveys his domain, pleased with his work as well as his version of the aria, humming it again, traversing several of the surrounding streets performing the same operation. 


It’s starting to get light, so Dubsack Rascals to the back of the courthouse and tosses his haul into its large dumpster. He spots Hamster, the courthouse maintenance man, watching him from a second-floor window, and curtsies to him. 


When he’s finished, Dubsack jumps back onto his scooter and cruises to The Chicken Shack on Hester Biddle for breakfast, singing the climax of Carmina Burana’s “O Fortuna,” letter-perfect, with hammering, war-cry fervor.

About the author

I publish Manhattan User’s Guide launched (print) in 1992, creating the first city newsletter. Arnold Falls is my first novel. view profile

Published on March 10, 2020

60000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Literary Fiction

Reviewed by

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