Fallen by Rochelle Siemienowicz
From the outset of Fallen, Rochelle Siemienowicz openly acknowledges that while her memoir, which began life as a novel, is a true story, it is first and foremost a story. Events have been merged and names changed, even her own – she refers to herself as Eve, a reflection of both her detachment from the person she once was, and the religious archetype of the ‘fallen woman’.
For Eve, marrying young is the only way to reconcile her Seventh-Day Adventist upbringing, with its strict rules about the sanctity of marriage, with the desires of the flesh. Eve and Isaac see themselves together forever, but find themselves in their mid-twenties in a marriage that is loving but increasingly devoid of desire. Seeking to satisfy their urges while remaining faithful, they turn to an open marriage. But, as Eve grows disenchanted with her husband and with her faith, things inevitably become complicated. Fallen is structured around a long-awaited trip to visit her best friends in Perth, with her long-term lover and then her husband following shortly after, as well as cameo appearances from an old flame and a casual fling. Using this holiday as a framing device is an effective way of containing the narrative, although there are events hinted at afterwards that would have been interesting to see expanded upon.
Siemienowicz’s writing is candid and heartfelt, with numerous moments of great clarity. She paints characters vividly, particularly the men in her life – her husband Isaac is variously tender, pathetic and contemptible, and lovers are equal parts charming and grotesque. Although in many ways a thematic companion to Lee Kofman’s The Dangerous Bride, Fallen focuses less on investigating the phenomenon of non-monogamy than on Eve’s story, an intimate portrayal of a personal crisis and process of self-discovery.
Alan Vaarwerk is the editorial assistant for Readings Monthly.