Owing to the heavy subject matter, Falling Out of Time is perhaps not a book one would choose to read for pleasure, and not a typical novel by any means.
The subject is grief and the plot is simple. Written in verse, it follows various people in a small, nameless town who are mourning the death of their children. Descriptions of both setting and characters are scant, provided by the Town Chronicler, ordered by the Duke to record the stories of the townspeople.
David Grossman is an Israeli writer of fiction, non-fiction, and children's literature, whose work has been translated into 36 languages. A noted peace activist, Grossman has previously written about the horror of war in his last novel, To the End of the Land (2008).
Falling Out of Time is Grossman's 10th novel, first published in Hebrew in 2011. Although he has stated it's not autobiographical, his own son was killed during the Israeli-Lebanon war in 2006, just two days before the UN ceasefire came into effect.
Delving deep into the darkest corners of the human soul, Falling Out of Time may prove too raw an experience for some readers, though it is often beautiful in its soul-searching honesty.
The first characters to appear, "Man" and "Woman," are so ravaged by the loss of their son they are incapable of communicating with each other, or of inhabiting their own identities -- none of the characters are ever referred to by name.
Man expresses his utter disbelief that life continues on in the face of such tragedy. Robbed of their most precious gift, the boy's parents feel as though they, too, have lost their own lives in the process. Life goes on for them, but it's a life devoid of meaning, out of sync with real time.
"For you the quiet/was good./and I felt it clutch/at my throat. One after/the other, the words/died, and we were/like a house/where the lights/go slowly out,/until a somber silence/fell - / ...And we together/we were born/on the other side,/without words,/without colors,/and we learned/to live/the inverse of life."
Desperate to reconnect with his dead child, Man wonders where his son is now, and if it's possible to go "there," as he says, wherever "there" may be. Leaving his wife, he sets out walking in an attempt to find the place where his son now resides.
Now referred to as Walking Man, he meets up along the way with others who have suffered similar fates. He encounters Elderly Math Teacher, whose sorrow has virtually engulfed his existence, as he explains, "filling me up entirely,/until nothing is left and/there is no room,/sometimes, for myself."
Falling Out of Time also speaks to our proclivity to feed off the distress of others. In our society, tragic events are often met more with fascination than empathy, so long as they're happening to someone else. In the words of one character, "What could be more titillating than someone else's hell?"
As Walking Man is joined by other grieving parents, his solitary walk becomes a procession of souls encircling the town, over and over, eventually drawing a crowd of gawkers, "drinking, spitting, looking through binoculars, gambling on the results."
Ultimately, the mourners find their peace in community; in walking and grieving together they arrive at a place, both literal and figurative, where they can at last lie down and rest.
Although the loss of one's child can never truly be reconciled, the journey from grief to acceptance is made smoother when you don't walk alone.
Lindsay McKnight works in the arts in Winnipeg.