One summer night in July of 1998, Tucker Jones drops his 14-year-old daughter, Kat, off with her (slightly older) friend, Abby, in front of a movie theater. But the girls meet up with a group of older boys, one of whom is Abby’s boyfriend, Jed. Jed’s parents are out of town, and he invites the girls back to his place for a party. The party is big and gets out of control, and a few hours later, Tucker receives a phone call from the parent of another girl, telling him that Kat has been drinking shots, has gotten naked, and gone into the pool house to give oral sex to several high school aged boys. Tucker flips out, and rushes over to Jed’s house to rescue his daughter, only to find the party long over, three or four somewhat sober boys sitting around a deck table talking and laughing, and Kat nowhere to be found. When Jed tells Tucker that he doesn’t know where Kat is, Tucker loses his temper, and smashes the empty beer bottles off of the table with a shovel he picked up on his way in. He and Jed get into a shoving match, and Jed slips and hits his head against the table, hard.
Thus begins this page turner of a novel, Breaking Her Fall, by Stephen Goodwin. Goodwin paints Tucker as a decent and loving father, a man who finds himself sinking into a moral quagmire, who is struggling to save his business, his reputation, and most importantly, his relationship with his daughter. Tucker is in over his head in dealing with this situation, and is struck over and over again by the pressures that teenage girls are forced to navigate.
Buffalo jumps. I’d been reading about Montana, and I kept thinking about the buffalo jumps, the cliffs over which the Plains Indians drove the herds of buffalo, slaughtering them in great numbers. That was happening to the girls. As I say, my imagination was drawn to violent images, but when I saw knots of girls on the street in their summer outfits, their tiny shorts and halters, with their spangly makeup and paste-on tattoos, when I saw them acting out the roles defined for them in the thousands of commercials and TV shows and popular songs and movies, when I put all this together with the case studies I was reading of the girls who cut themselves or couldn’t eat or simply couldn’t function, when I thought of what was happening to Kat – when I tried to make sense of it all, it seemed to me that the girls were as helpless and confused and panicky as the buffalo must have been as they stampeded over the edge of the precipice, that in all the noise and din they had lost their bearings, they they had no idea of the dangers of the plunge they were about to make.
Goodwin writes of the emotions and the difficult, halting conversations as Tucker and Kat try to understand how the events of that July night could possibly have come to unfold. As they try to understand each others’ actions and motives, to forgive not only each other, but themselves. As they try to find their way back together as a family, as the gossip mill of Washington DC blurs around them, as Kat is expelled from her private school, as Tucker’s ex-wife tries to fight for custody of Kat and her brother, Will. The story takes a lot of sideways and backward turns, as Tucker tries to unravel his own inner workings, tries to figure out who he is after this violent day, and as the family tries to mend its wounds and figure out if they can come together again.
I liked Breaking Her Fall a lot. Most of the novels that I read are about women, especially those that are about emotions, passion, and family issues. To read them from a man’s perspective was a welcome change. His protectiveness for his children, his tenderness, and the way he has of keeping people at a distance since his divorce are all written so honestly and cleanly, that they will speak to many. The end is a bit pat and predictable, but overall, a very good read, and one that I would recommend.