There is a lot of great fiction coming from Indigenous writers in the US and Canada at the moment. These authors are exploring the ongoing impacts of colonisation and the efforts to hang on to culture and tradition in the modern world. Recently we had Jessica Johns horror-tinged debut Bad Cree but there are plenty of other authors in this space including Louise Erdrich, Rebecca Roanhorse and Eden Robinson. And Then She Fell is Mohawk author Alicia Elliot’s first novel and it is fierce, confronting and compassionate.
The book opens on Alice as a teenager and the first time she finds herself talking to what could be a spirit, in the form of the animated version of Pocahantas. Cut forward a few years and Alice and Steve have just had a baby girl, Dawn. Alice is Mohawk and from the Six Nations Reservation, while Steve is a white academic and the two live in a mainly white suburb in Toronto. The birth of Dawn seems to have rekindled Alice’s ability to hear spirits. Alice is having trouble bonding with Dawn and there is an intimation that her visions and the voices she hears are part of her post-partum depression. At the same time, Alice is trying to channel her storytelling father and write her own, modern version of the Mohawk creation story.
And Then She Fell charts Alice’s life as it gets more and more out of control. Alice is trying to bond with her child while dealing with her own disconnection from her people. At the same time she constantly experiences both subtle and overt racism, amplified by her fragile mental state. Elliot casts the readers into the confusion and often helplessness of Alice’s point of view and walks a tightrope of exploring what might be real and what might be a product of her imagination. At which point Elliot pulls the rug out from under the reader to deliver a resolution that is both compassionate and heartfelt.
And Then She Fell joins an array of media that is grappling with the Indigenous experience in America. The characters in tales like Bad Cree or TV series like Reservation Dogs do not distinguish between the physical and the spiritual. These narratives also do not shy away from the ongoing trauma of colonisation. In similar ways, And Then She Fell asks readers to understand the spiritual connection of its protagonist with her culture and the impact that this, and her people’s history, has on the way that she experiences the world. Through Alice’s story Elliot delivers a powerful, sometimes disturbing but ultimately uplifting debut novel.