I was attracted to Arnold Falls, Charlie Suisman’s debut novel, by the nods to Armistead Maupin and P.G. Wodehouse in the synopsis, and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a novel featuring a quirky ensemble cast, with memorable characters and a sharp, good-natured sense of humour.
Arnold Falls focuses on the lead-up to the mayoral elections in the hamlet of Arnold Falls, a location owing its past prosperity to its red-light activities and its present largely to Clagger, a dubious-sounding illicit alcoholic drink. The references to the town are rich with the self-deprecating humour often found in residents of small, backwater places, and although the names and signposts throughout the novel are clearly US-based, I had no difficulty in relating to it as a UK small town survivor.
Protagonist Jeebie is likeable, quick-witted and somewhat romantically clueless, according to his closest friends, and there’s a subtly portrayed will-they-won’t-they romance between Jeebie and Will, a talented cartoonist who works in the local farmers’ market. The scenes between Jeebie and Will rarely take centre stage, showing instead a reticence for grand gestures and a shyness which had me rooting for them.
Some of the best scenes in Arnold Falls feature friendships between the various characters. The dialogue between Jeebie and budding-best-friend Nelle sparkles with life, illustrating the author’s talent for capturing in few words the essence of real friendship, and there are little touches throughout the novel showing connections and concerns between characters.
The mayoral contest, being fought between current mayor Rufus and Jeebie’s friend Jenny, serves to represent different conflicts of interest for the town, including business and profit versus conservation, and traditional seats of power versus progression and change. It’s all brought to life by the humour, which ranges from witty exchanges between characters to full-on slapstick.
Arnold Falls reminds me of one of those independent movies that come along every so often, abandoning the quest for the twistiest plot in favour of taking a closer focus on the lives of some intriguing characters. It combines timeless elements (the small town themes and the battle between good and misguided) and modern ones (refreshingly, both LGBT and older people seem to be universally valued in Arnold Falls). With its broad range of characters, Arnold Falls feels like it could be the first in a series, and I’d be more than happy to meet this cast again in a future adventure.
– Reviewed by Lorraine Douglas