In the Falling Snow
Caryl Phillips
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Buy *In the Falling Snow* by Caryl Phillips online

In the Falling Snow
Caryl Phillips
320 pages
November 2010
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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A policy analyst working for a local government agency, Keith Gordon lives alone in a small flat in Wilton Road near West London. Three years ago, his wife, Annabelle, asked him to leave after he confessed to an affair. She saw his revelation as a betrayal to her and to their teenage son, Laurie. Himself the son of West Indian immigrants, Keith has grown complacent and reached a time and a place where he cannot help but be cynical.

While Annabelle has drifted on seeking satisfaction through her own profession, Keith has fallen into an affair with Yvette, a young research assistant and co-worker. When not helping Yvette fulfill her wildest sexual fantasies, Keith is also making plans to write a book on the history of jazz and soul.

Laurie is increasingly independent, causing Annabelle to leave Keith urgent messages about the problems he’s been having at school. Annabelle is convinced that Laurie has fallen in with what she likes to call “the wrong set.” Although Keith is far from a liberal father, he seems unclear as to what Annabelle expects him to do about it.

With his professional life about to become an administrative nightmare, everything changes for Keith when he decides to dump Yvette. She retaliates by spreading intimate details about their liaisons electronically around the office. Keith believes he can reign in Yvette, but not before his boss hints at the possibility of sexual harassment charges, disciplinary proceedings, and a recommendation that Keith should have a cooling-off period, perhaps even some paid leave.

Temporarily cut loose from his moorings and beyond the occasional fits and spurts of attention that he pays to his book, Keith suddenly becomes obsessed with Danuta, a recent Polish immigrant who has come to the United Kingdom to learn English but is more content to fall into a rapid and angry silence in his presence.

Obviously symbolic, Danuta’s immigrant life parallels that of Earl, Keith’s West Indian father, who as a “son of the Empire” came to the country in the early 1960s to make a better life for himself, but was instead dealt some wicked blows. Meanwhile, Keith remains deeply reflective of his past, especially concerning Brenda, the woman who brought him up; his past life with Annabelle; and Annabelle’s father, a wealthy military man who hid his racism “behind the civilized gentility of tea.”

Keith’s middle age is characterized by the ceaseless pressures of family, the ailing Earl, and the petulant and uncommunicative Laurie, who has difficulties of his own. Keith tries to talk to Laurie, thinking it possible to reconnect with his son, if only for a while. Set against the silent streets of West London and their early winter gusts, this provocative, beautifully wrought story simmers with a generational racial tension as Keith tries to sort through his familiar mid-life feelings of guilt, sorrow and regret.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2009

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