A lone leaf, falling from the sky, is not the image I held in my mind as I wrote THE ART OF FALLING—but it’s close enough to stand in for the one that did. Called “The Falling Man,” it’s the image of the unidentified man plunging headfirst from the North Tower the morning of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. The image was captured by AP photographer Richard Drew and used widely, often to much controversy.
We don’t need to see it again. Those of us who saw it will forever carry it emblazoned on our souls.
In the photo’s Wikipedia entry, theologian Mark D. Thompson said, “perhaps the most powerful image of despair at the beginning of the twenty-first century is not found in art, or literature, or even popular music. It is found in a single photograph.”
It isn’t known whether the man fell or jumped, but the question of jumping, and the despair that would incite such an action, stuck with me. At what point in our lives is jumping—however dangerous—the only kind of forward movement we can conjure? This man would have died if stuck within the inferno. In leaping, did he seek a different kind of death? Or did he see, in this last desperate leap into the expanse of air stretched before him, a glimmer of hope?
I wanted to turn a dangerous, last-chance maneuver into a story of hope. I wrote the story of Penelope Sparrow, a dancer who wakes up in a Philadelphia hospital room unable to move or remember the accident that landed her there. A witness, the baker from the first floor of her high-rise, soon arrives to tell her what he knows: she landed on his car, which had been parked fourteen stories beneath her penthouse.
The baker, her hospital roommate, the local dance critic, and newspaper readers across the country all want to know what happened out on that balcony. But at first Penelope can only think about taking first steps toward regaining the movement she lost when the rest of the company left for their big-break European tour without her. Can the miracle of her survival—and the support of her first friends outside the dance world—give her new perspective on the body image issues that imploded her career?
Come to think of it, maybe my novel is like the leaf picture, after all. After my first husband’s suicide sixteen years ago, I soothed my frazzled nerves with long quiet walks in autumn’s brilliance. One day I watched up ahead as a leaf let go from the high branch of an oak and when I got beneath it—without breaking my stride—I opened my hand. The leaf landed my palm.
The thought occurred to me that outcomes aren’t always dependent on actions taken in private despair. There are other characters in the story.
Sometimes, it’s not about the leap.
Sometimes it’s about who catches us.
All Penny ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.
Kathryn Craft’s lyrical debut is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning.