Book Review of JUST FALL by Nina Sadowsky

[This post is the seventh in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Just Fall: A Psychological Romance by Nina Sadowsky

Murder, missing children, and a mystery of hidden pasts, Nina Sadowsky’s debut novel Just Fall will leave you breathless and asking for more.

When Ellie vowed on the night of her wedding “till death do us part” she probably assumed this would be a concern for later down the road, when her and her too good to be true husband, Rob, were both grey and old and the many experiences of the world behind them. What she never expected was for it to be the death of a strange man (by her hand at that) that would wrench their lives in different directions, sending them down a convoluted path of deceit, trickery, and a violence history both wish would remain rooted firmly in the past.

As Ellie learns about Rob’s dark past she is placed in a terrible situation where it seems there are no good choices left for her to make. In order to save her own life and the life of the man she loves, Ellie will have to cross lines she never dared thought were worth crossing, and question how far she is willing to go in order to survive. Will she kill for the man she proclaimed to love, and if she does, what kind of person will she be when all of this is over?

Mysteries of the past and present unfold, submerging Ellie in a twisted plot of murder, kidnapped children, and drug trade. The only way out is to do exactly as instructed, but before she can make it out alive she’ll have to ask herself the hardest question of all, can she really trust the man who’s criminal past has led her down this dangerous path? At every turn Ellie and Rob must question the motivations behind their own actions, as they are forced to see not just the darkness in their loved one’s past, but finally face the darkness in their own hearts that they’ve been avoiding for so long.

Nina Sadowsky’s debut novel Just Fall, takes the reader through a roller coaster of emotions, concern, desire and doubt, distrust and the ever present hope that there is some good reason behind the character’s heinous actions. The chapters are divided into Now and Then moments, giving the reader minute glimpses into the newlywed’s complicated pasts as the story of the present progresses ever forward. These small hints of painful history keep the reader eager for the next glimpse, and slowly help to unfold the answers to the many questions this twisted tale dares you to ask.

Sadowsky’s style of 3rd person narrative stems from her background as a screenwriter, providing the reader with a unique experience as she switches between a 3rd person point of view with insight into Ellie and Rob’s inner thoughts as well as the occasional, separate, impartial narrator that has the feel of an outsider looking in, trying to make sense of what they are seeing, much like how a movie goer may feel when seeing a feature film in theaters for the first time. This switching between the characters’ POV and the impartial narrator gives an extra level of complexity to the psychological evaluations of the characters actions, allowing us to see both the inner thoughts and reasoning of the characters from their own minds, as well as the questions an outsider without the knowledge of another’s thoughts might ask as they try to make sense of the motivations  behind the characters’ actions.

While the emphasis of Ellie’s physical appearance (as well as her evaluations of other characters’ physical attributes) throughout the book seems a bit excessive it is exactly what I would expect from a character who’s past has left her with crippling insecurity and feelings of being unworthy of other’s attention, let alone affections. Rob on the other hand is a surprisingly likable despite his many faults and wrong doings, and though he is far from mentally stable he exhibits one of the most important key traits in the recovery of any person who has suffered trauma or abuse, the desire and true motivation to change for the better. As we learn more about Rob’s dangerous and terrible past we can see over time how he has changed, both his decent into darkness as well as his dissatisfaction with the person he has become and his desperate, struggling attempts to change.

The one disappointing aspect of this book is that the ending was rather abrupt, having the feel of a thriller or action movie climax, which didn’t have quite achieve the same affect in book format. The turning point seemed to come on a bit sudden, especially after such a carefully planned out, slow release of information, but the suspense and gradual build up of knowledge throughout the novel more than makes up for the abruptness of the end. Overall, Just Fall, is a fascinating and gripping read, with complexity of character to capture the reader’s attention and enough mystery to keep you eager to learn more.

With a sharp attention to psychology and an accurate portrayal of motivations, Sadowsky wonderfully captured a tantalizing, and yet reasonably realistic representation of the horrors and aftermath of a traumatic and difficult life without overly romanticizing or dramatizing too much the horrors the characters lived through. Just Fall will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, ravenous for the next secret to be revealed. As a first novel and psychological thriller/romance, I’d say Just Fall is a great success.

Update July 14, 2017: If you’d like to read my interview with Nina Sadowsky you can find it here.

By Tynan Drake

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