The first few lines of And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky captivated me:
I once watched a collector kill a monarch butterfly on a nature show by putting it under a glass dome with a piece of cotton soaked in gasoline. The insect’s wings flapped less and less until they were perfectly still. Suffocation is a cruel way to go. I can’t breathe under my bell jar either (1).
The “bell jar” is a nod to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and that book is one of the few comforts Keek has for the summer. And considering her summer consists of being quarantined in her grandmother’s house due to the chicken pox (with no internet!), agonizing over the fight she had with her boyfriend (about virginity!), and wavering between anger and heartache over her parents’ separation, Keek needs all the comforts she can get. Luckily, Keek has an old typewriter on which to pound away all her thoughts.
Keek’s reflections are both the strength and weakness of the story. On one side, she is a funny narrator with a wit and a way with words I can admire. On the other side, nothing happens. She is, for the large part of the novel, stranded at her grandmother’s house typing away her feelings until her chickenpox disappears. She tells us about the events leading to her summer and describes her sickness in vivid imagery. Keek just seems like a young girl sorting through her thoughts. As much as I liked her, I wasn’t compelled to follow her.
Though the middle drags, the end picks up. Keek starts doing, discovering, and interacting with other characters; there are finally scenes with action. It’s unfortunate that the other characters don’t really begin to come to life until the story is almost done. Keek’s grandmother is a strong character that I wanted to see more of. (There’s one scene that made me laugh so loud I almost cried because it’s so embarrassing for Keek.) Keek’s mother reveals an unexpected side that had me questioning who the true victim is in Keek’s parents’ separation.
Overall, the writing was great, but the story just didn’t pull me in. I give And Then Things Fall Apart three stars.
Samantha Bagood is a freelance writer and designer and a student at Appalachian State University. She is currently writing her first novel.