- Twin Tales:Narrative Profusion and Genealogy in Fall on Your Knees
Ann-Marie MacDonald concludes her interview with Eva Tihanyi with a description of how the process of writing Fall on Your Knees began:
I started with a room in a house and the name of a character and a face. I lived for a long time with those very small components until I was allowed to leave one room of the house and see that there was an attic. . . . It was a long time before I was allowed to leave the house and find out where we were.("Jane Eyre" 23)
The novel's prologue is similarly made up of "small components," as the narrator describes a series of photographs, giving a piece-meal introduction to Cape Breton in the early twentieth century, to a house on Water Street, and to the members of the Piper family, who are the focus of the narrative. The prologue's opening sentence, "They're all dead now" (1), establishes a tension between the absence of the "dead" and the presence of a narrative of "now" and is the first indication of the novel's representation of various types of limbo. The title of the prologue, "Silent Pictures," denotes the temporal entrapment of characters who can no longer speak for themselves, while the picture of Mercedes "saying Shshsh" (3) captures the indeterminacy between saying and not saying. The picture of Materia, the matriarch of the Piper household, shows her "half in half out of the oven" (2), dressed in mourning for her daughter Kathleen and, as it is in this position that she dies, for herself. The narrator explains that the picture of James, Materia's husband, shows him asleep, "not dead" (2), and goes on to mention such unfinished or absent pictures as those of [End Page 159] Ambrose, who died soon after he was born, of Kathleen, and of Other Lily. The latter is "in limbo . . . that's why this picture of Other Lily is a white blank" (2). The picture of Frances, sister to Kathleen and Mercedes, presents her as a slippery figure who has evaded the confines of a photograph. The photograph of Frances is a "moving picture" (3), foretelling Frances's devotion to the world of silent movies. More significantly, the suggestion that while "she's not in it yet" (3), Frances might very well break the surface of the image of the moving creek and "stare straight at us" (3) reiterates the novel's concern with the tension between absence and imminence, especially the tension between silence and saying.
Slippery Frances is consumed by her role as the Piper family's retainer of secrets and stories. Frances bears this role until the end of her own life, when she "uses her last sprint of energy to pry [Mercedes'] hands away, and to speak the words" (557), words that her older sister has consistently tried to hush. Her capacity as storyteller is initiated in Book Three of Fall on Your Knees when, during her mother's funeral, Frances is stricken with an attack of the giggles. As she convulses behind her hands, expecting to be punished any moment by her father, she is surprised, instead, by "a gentle pat on her head—her father's sympathetic hand, her sister's offer of a sodden hanky" (142). Frances realizes that both James and Mercedes think that she is crying:
Frances learns something in this moment that will allow her to survive and function for the rest of her life. She finds out that one thing can look like another. . . . In this moment, fact and truth become separated and commence to wander like twins in a fairy-tale, waiting to be reunited by that special someone who possesses the secret of telling them apart.(142)
The reference to twins marks one of MacDonald's most insistent motifs, perhaps unsurprisingly, given her theatre background and her engagement with Shakespeare's plays, in which the device of the twin is often employed. Contrary to the more common theatrical deployment of the twin motif, which, in its service to the larger plot device of mistaken identity, is predicated on the...