Review of The Fall of Giants by Frank Luntz
‘Penelope Fitzgerald’s first novel follows the dramatic rise of a scrappy writer who takes on the persona of a local advocate in an effort to improve the economic lot of an aging single lady living in a dismal town known as Chaturbate. As a result of her persistent efforts to help the less fortunate, she attracts both friends and enemies along the way. There’s local opposition to her plans, particularly from the well-heeled Ladyaday, who sees in her efforts to uplift the community her own means of self-aggrandizement. The novel’s protagonist, Penelope Fitzgerald, finds herself at the center of events that will define her life and determine the fate of her community and its place in the world.
Based largely on events that take place in Gamestead, Florida, the film version of ‘Penelope Fitzgerald’ is a successful portrayal of the Florida tradition of biculturalism. In Gamestead locals enjoy the advantages of cross-cultural interaction. A mix of Italian, Mexican, and Jewish cultures form the main population of this idyllic community. When one of the local ladies witnesses the murder of her husband by the sadistic “Gambrian Killer” Antonia de Los Rios, she decides to seek vengeance on her assailant. Having just returned from a trip to Buenos Aires where she had encountered similar ghastly sights, she takes with her a rag doll and a set of plastic surgical tools that she intends to use against the attacker. She names her makeshift memorial after herself: the first Gamart doll.
As events unfold throughout the novel, readers are privy to the minutiae of everyday life in Gamestead. Penelope begins to develop feelings for her neighbors, but they are too busy celebrating the death of a member of their community to pay much attention to her. A visit from Gamart leads Penelope to accept the sad news that her husband has died of a bullet point. Months later, when a crazed serial killer murders several babies in Gamart’s town, she and a few other townspeople decide to execute a string of murders themselves in order to be” avengers of Gamart”.
Although the late introduction of new characters and minor plot developments does take the focus away from Penelope and her tragic past, it is clear that the main strength of the story lies in its excellent depiction of Florida life in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. The arrival of Gamart in town unites the citizens of Gamart together, but things quickly become confused when he insists on working on his novel in the same room as his neighbor, Antonia. Antonia immediately rebuffs his attempts to work alone, but both are drawn into a life of crime and danger. Meanwhile, the other main characters, all of whom feel deeply drawn into the tragedy of Gamart’s death, begin to enjoy their time living amongst the people of Gamart and reliving the old times. All of them hope to one day return to normal lives, but things are not always what they seem.
Following closely on from Valentino, the second book of the original tale is The Fall of Giants by Frank Luntz. It is set ten years later in a small Texas town. Having started out as a landscaper, Luntz eventually became known for his successful portrayal of evil villains in horror stories, and The Fall of Giants is no different. As the novel opens, Antonia is being forced to move back to New York City following the death of her husband, while Gamart is still being forced to work in the landscaping business he started twenty years before. Everything goes well for the time until a series of unusual events turn everything in the opposite direction, and Antonia finds herself pregnant. Things get even more interesting when she finds out that her unborn son has the rare condition called ‘leukaemia’, which can cause the development of cancerous cells in the early stages of life.
In the following months, the full ramifications of this terrible news reach the doorstep of the pregnant mother and the couple’s son, whose lives are never the same again. The novel ends with a twist that no one would ever consider, and this is why The Fall of Giants is such an amazing novel. Frank Luntz creates a fictional world that leaves you breathless every time you turn the page. Those who have not read Valentino and Gamart in print, do yourself a favour; the review of The Fall of Giants makes that highly recommended!