In The Man Who Fell from the Sky, Bill Fletcher, Jr.’s debut novel, one of his character’s says of the plot, “Amazing, you couldn’t make a story like this up.” But Fletcher does, and the short chapters, suspenseful narrative, and incisive prose keep you turning the pages, waiting to see the next eventful twist, right to the end.
The title alone is enough to draw you in and Fletcher delays explanation of this spiral through space—a World War II crewmember of a bomber who slips from the plane after dislodging a stuck bomb—as he develops his cast, particularly his protagonist David Gomes, an aspiring journalist at a small press in Cape Cod.
When TJ Smith is mysteriously killed by a sniper one morning after leaving his house and entering his truck, the novel engages the reader, and like David you want to know why this seemingly upstanding citizen is the victim of an assassin.
But as the tale unravels there are other victims, and, as David discovers. they are all members of a crew on a bomber plane with missions over Italy toward the end of World War II. David, like Fletcher, meticulously delves into the intricacies of the tragedies, gradually assembling the pieces of the puzzle that leads to a suspect, who is among several under suspicion.
Since I am basically a nonfiction writer and reader, there was my usual hesitancy to get too involved in fiction, but because the author is an activist I have been affiliated with in various political movements, I thought I would give a cursory glance at a couple chapters and see if it grabbed me.
It did, and I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised since even in Fletcher’s nonfiction essays there’s always a glimmer of what’s now called creative nonfiction. These elements are particularly evident in his descriptive passages where he introduces a character or develops a scene.
While we get the size, age, hair color, and other aspects of the numerous personalities in the novel, it’s not until the end that David’s color and ethnicity becomes vital components to the story. In fact, that he is a black journalist opens an entirely new and intriguing plot line that is essential to understanding exactly what happened to the man who fell from the sky.
Inevitably, David’s pursuit of the serial assassin and his reportage brings his own life into the deadly crosshairs, and there’s no more intense scene than when he is finally face to face with the killer.
It was not unexpected that Fletcher would find time and space to ruminate on some of the liberation struggles where he has been such a formidable participant, but the mention of Amilcar Cabral, the Black Panthers, and other revolutionaries are merely teases that begs a follow up, though the novel has its own coda that extends a generation beyond the seventies.
Most appealing is Fletcher’s pace and journalistic insights; there are more than a complement of cinematic moments, and it is not farfetched for David to have visions of a Pulitzer or to get some motion picture overtures.
Fletcher has woven an engrossing story that harkens back to the forties while he connects the seventies and sprints forward into the 21st Century. I feel this is just the beginning of a trove of fiction waiting to spring from this author’s deeply creative imagination.
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