Genre Horror Publisher Raw Dog Screaming Press Year Published 2004 Review Posted on 4/22/2005 Reviewer Rating
8 out of 10
The Fall of Never, by Ronald Damien Malfi
Reviewed by Adrienne Jones
If you've read this book, why not
When I began reading The Fall of Never by Ronald Damien Malfi, I was stymied to again encounter a concept that seems to be haunting me lately; a character with lost or repressed memories. In the last book I reviewed, a protagonist's memories had been wiped clean by maliciously magical intervention. In my own recent novella, a character uncovers lost memories only when they manifest to taunt him. And while I struggle with the uncertainty of fiction clichés, I strongly believe an author can take any plot backbone and make it his own unique animal, regardless of prior usage. The Fall of Never has more than proven this hypothesis.
In the midst of starting a new life in New York City, our protagonist Kelly's mental state begins to crumble as snippets of her lost past assault her, too vague to fully realize, yet fleshy enough to rekindle a fear she inherently knows is justified. Contrary to like scenarios, Kelly is fully aware that she's forgotten a healthy chunk of her past, and while it's initially difficult to swallow that she wouldn't more vigorously pursue this mystery, Malfi knows what he's doing. The author's sense of timing is flawless, and each time we cock an eyebrow and question that this picture will come together, he tosses in another puzzle piece. The clearer the picture, the faster the pages turn.
This is a difficult story to review without revealing spoilers, as the climax is also the story's revelation. But this is not to say the lead up is not riveting. When Kelly is called back to her childhood home for a family emergency, we're introduced to the first layer of her unfolding past. In a gothic mansion with classic eeriness; cold, silent parents, suspicious servants, secrets and locked doors, it is reminiscent of an old Vincent Price movie. But this is only the backdrop. Malfi twists the setting from classic horror to modern surreal, and in what better place than a forest?
At the first glimpse of an ethereal, laughing bald man, slipping naked behind trees like a phantom, I knew I was in for something different. And as one of the author's strengths is tapping into character emotion, he plays with ours, as we greedily read on, wondering just how he's going to explain this montage of psychological, paranormal and visceral. But don't mistake my description of the novel's mood to mean this plot is not solid and fast moving. There isn't a moment where Malfi isn't feeding us candy in his imagery, while subtly dropping his plot breadcrumbs that will lead us through the forest to the summit.
Without exposing the mind-bending unveiling of the heart of this story, I can say that while truly unique, I was reminded of other fiction moments that have stayed with me on an emotional level, along the lines of a Dr. Frankenstein creationist theme; Uncle Frank from Clive Barker's Hellraiser, as well as Roy Batty in Blade Runner. And whether the author intended this parallel or not, I had a moment of nostalgic awe when one of Malfi's characters beckons for 'More life'.
The writing in The Fall of Never is smooth and easy to read, descriptive yet not overbearing. While the author likes his similes and metaphors, some of which made me chuckle with their sheer inventiveness, the words are aptly chosen for the picture he's trying to paint.
I've been complaining lately about the lack of inventiveness in horror and paranormal fiction, pondering if there are any bold writers out there willing to try something wildly different. Ronald Damien Malfi has officially shut my yap. Complex, chilling, surprising and though-provoking, The Fall of Never is what horror should be.