The best part of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees are the scenes that describe Kathleen as a happy child. These are the scenes when it is possible to imagine there might be something good in the world, even if that good thing has red hair. But that possibility is soon quashed and the remainder of the novel gave me nightmares. Actual wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night nightmares about water ghosts and red haired demon children and the rosary.
The book asks us what it means to be a “good” person or a “bad” person: the actions we take? the beliefs we hold? the actions we take in the name of the beliefs we hold? the beliefs we refuse? I suspect the novel hopes we conclude that the beliefs are more important than the actions, and yet the novel ends with one grand “good” action by Mercedes, an action that comes from either her fear of hell and purgatory or her love for her sisters.
In a novel that sees people punished for actions they did not take, and people avoiding due consequences the book may give a most bleak answer its questions about “good” and “bad” people: perhaps it doesn’t matter what kind of person you are, you are still subject to the will and lives of others, and other people will hurt you.