Buzzed Books #83 by Drew Barth
Rebekah Frumkin’s The Comedown
Ever since reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, I get excited when I see a family tree at the beginning of a novel. It’s the possibilities a family tree at the beginning signifies: a multi-generational tale so focused on the minutia of family issues and how those ties break. So I got even happier when I saw two family trees at the beginning of Rebekah Frumkin’s The Comedown. But then the balancing of these two family dramas could prove difficultly delicate—we as readers watch the perilous tightrope act before us and hope for the best. And the best is what happens here. Frumkin is adept at weaving us between both families across generations while always keeping our attention on the story at hand.
While the story is concerned with the Bloom-Mittwoch and Marshall families and how one interaction between them would keep the families intertwined for decades, it is the way the story is told that is the most interesting. When I said balance before, I absolutely meant it. This is a novel told in non-chronological order and jumps from character to character, time period to time period, with only two moments of being in one character’s head twice. There’s a few ways here that a reader can end up lost. But Frumkin is a master at this tightrope balancing—each chapter is like its own story with a piece of the larger story’s arc intertwined. The leanness and precision of the prose only helps to reinforce the masterful work on display for we are given crucial story elements precisely when we need them, never a moment too soon or too late. The Comedown builds its tension and drama like Lego: piece by piece until we see every story thread from every character fully realized in an epilogue that could be the start of its own new story.
What makes Frumkin’s structure work so well is how immediately immersed we are once a new chapter begins. We are taken immediately from one character’s head to another and know nearly right away what kind of new character we’re inside. It’s a testament to how well thought out each charter is going into this novel. Even in a third person POV, the voices are always specific to each character. Fifteen characters make up the core cast of this novel, and not a one has a voice that’s quite like any of the others. We can see the precision of thoughts and actions from one character in the 70s to the meandering, profanity-laden thoughts of a different character thirty years later. And at no point do we ever stop and wonder which character we are, so strong are their mannerisms and voices throughout their chapters.
The Comedownis a great many things: family drama, drug-addled revenge, bildungsroman, social critique. But the story always manages to balance every aspect of itself, never once giving us the stomach tightening feeling that we’re about to watch this delicately beautiful house of cards topple over. The Comedown is a novel of trust as well—for the characters and the reader themselves. While the characters battle through their own ability to trust one another, we as readers are asked to trust Frumkin in her prose. We see the perilous heights the story reaches for with bated breath, but we know that through skill Frumkin will dazzle us as the story glides above. Only then at the last page can we exhale and know we’ve seen something marvelous.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.