Heidi W. Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
Algonquin Books – Workman Publishing, 2010
Initially I kept an eye on The Bellwether winners as an extension of my admiration of Barbara Kingsolver’s writing.
But after I read Hillary Jordan’s novel, I kept an eye on the prize because Mudbound was one of my favourite reads for that year.
So I was tremendously excited to read Heidi Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky.
It, like Mudbound, has multiple voices, so the chapters offer alternative perspectives on the events of the story.
In Mudbound, this served to offer depth to characterization primarily, but in Heidi Durrow’s novel it is most useful in adding pieces to a larger puzzle.
This puzzle extends throughout the novel, surrounding Rachel’s identity as the girl who fell from the sky.
Did she really fall? Who else fell? How did they fall? Why did they fall?
The reader is not the only one asking: many characters in the novel are either unclear as to the events, or unaware.
Intricately connected to the answers to these questions is the overarching matter of yearning. Yearning for something, something other, something other than what is had.
Rachel muses: “…Jay don’t like me, for sure. He’s white. White people don’t think black people are pretty. Mostly it’s because of our hair. It works different. And it smells different with more lotions in it. Also, black women are not as pretty as white women. There are exceptions — Aunt Loretta, Miss America — but not many.”
And directly connected to yearning? Frustrated desire. A sense of missing out. Of being on the sidelines. Not having a place.
I remember older women in my family saying to me, when I wanted something that I wouldn’t be able to have: “What? Do you think it will just fall from the sky?” Their way of saying that I was crazy for wanting it because it would never appear unless from a miracle bestowed by a higher power. Their way of saying that I should stop wanting.
What Rachel wants? Belonging, explanations, justice? They don’t just fall from the sky either. Reconciling these realities with what *does* fall? That’s at the heart of Heidi Durrow’s first novel.
The tale is well-told, though it did not resonate with me in the way that Mudbound did. Had the work been marketed as a novella, I think I would have had different expectations but, as a full-length novel, I expected more complexity, more layering, and a deeper involvement. Nonetheless, the characters are memorable, it’s a story worth telling, and readers with an interest in these themes will appreciate the delicate touch with which Rachel approaches her knowing, struggles with her yearning, and settles into an uneasy acceptance of what cannot be known, what cannot be had.
Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970);
Mairuth Sarsfield’s No Crystal Stair (2004), especially with Emily’s character in mind;
Octavia Butler’s Fledgling (2005);
C.E. Morgan “Twins”, Summer Fiction: 20 Under 40 The New Yorker June14/21 2010