In an elegant portrayal of generational conflict in a few select families, Thomas E. Kennedy focuses on the tortured internal dialogs of a few stressed individuals to exceptional effect in Falling Sideways. Mr. Kennedy’s writing here is so forceful and affecting, I had despaired of any kind of heartening or life-affirming ending – but the ending surprised me quite a lot. It’s a fulfilling, lustrous conclusion to a book full of sad truths, all perfectly observed and rendered.
Fred Breathwaite, American expatriate, lives and works in Copenhagen, and frets about his 22 year-old son. He has a suddenly prickly relationship with the CEO of the think tank where he has worked for 27 years (the CEO being one of the most loathsome characters I have encountered in any recent fiction). Fred’s son Jes was blessed with a quick mind and has loads of potential, if only he would try to realize some of it. A second father-son narrative parallels that of the Breathwaites, this one containing the story of the loathsome CEO, Martin Kampman, and his son, Adam. Mr. Kennedy treats us to a high-relief contrast with these two stories, and they begin to intersect in the younger generation, with some very telling results. Other characters receive due exposure: the charlatan, skirt-chasing middle manager, the dignified, unbowed au pair girl, the lonely and lovely finance executive who has a brief fling.
None of these characters evokes our sympathy very much, and Mr. Kennedy shows us the fear and arrogance, and toadyism, and paranoia rampant in this modern corporate culture. The fraught internal dialogs power the narrative and Mr. Kennedy flashes his brilliance by so utterly changing the tone and process from one character to the next. This, and the surprising, almost deus ex machina-type ending make Falling Sideways a highly worthwhile read.