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Spotlight on: The Fall of Never by Ronald Damien Malfi

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The Fall of Never by Ronald Damien Malfi Ronald Damien Malfi, The Fall of Never

Aspiring documentarian Kelly Rich comes home late one night to a message from her estranged family: her sister, Becky, was nearly killed in the forest near their house and Kelly must come home at once to her hometown of Spires in upstate New York. This leaves Josh Cavey, her videographer and the closest thing she has to a friend, in a fix when he finds their latest documentary subject, Nellie Worthridge, an elderly paraplegic, barely breathing on the floor of her apartment.

In the hospital, Nellie begins saying and doing very strange things like talking about how "we almost killed that fucking dog" and breaking all of the tines save one from plastic forks. She really upsets her attending physician, Carlos Mendes, when she mentions that his unborn baby is not going to make it to term. And, at her family home, Kelly feels like she is going crazy. She is having strange "memories" of her years in the asylum her parents put her in at 15 (the same age her sister is now), and this only increases her fear.

How author Ronald Damien Malfi ties Nellie's odd behaviors to Kelly's visit to Spires results in the most effective chiller I've read in years. The Fall of Never gave me the first genuine reading-induced goosebumps I've gotten since my first time through Ray Bradbury's "The October Game," and it is only his second novel.

The Fall of Never faithfully follows the expected route of the American gothic subgenre, yet it doesn't feel derivative, just familiar. Malfi informs his story with references from Shakespeare, Poe, even Puzo (watch out for those bags of oranges), and the cover illustration by Mike Bohatch gets the reader into the proper mood.

Malfi truly knows his characters, so much so that I began to think I did, too. The dialogue is so personal, and each character has such a clear and distinctive voice, that it is easy to tell who is speaking just from their words. His female characters are especially well drawn and are the most integral to the plot, leaving the male characters like Josh and Carlos to simply respond to the actions of the women.

The Fall of Never is about many things, but most of all it is about power: the power of fear and loneliness, of the mind and imagination, and the extreme result that comes from the combination of all four. Given the depth of his plot, I was concerned that any ending Malfi came up with would fail to meet the heights of what preceded it. But he managed to completely surprise me with a stunning conclusion that fits all the pieces together in a fully satisfying way and may even break new ground -- I know I've never read anything like it before. Despite its generic origins, the author does not limit himself and therefore comes up with a novel that feels completely original and definitely makes Ronald Damien Malfi someone to watch out for in the future.

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