‘‘The Way It Felt to Be Falling,’’ by Kim Edwards, was first published in the Threepenny Review, although it received greater exposure when it was reprinted in the author’s first and only book—The Secrets of a Fire King—in 1997. Edwards wrote the story as part of her first fiction workshop that she took in college, but revised it several times over the next decade as she honed her writing skills through creative writing programs and personal experience. Like many of Edwards’s stories, ‘‘The Way It Felt to Be Falling’’ features a strong female protagonist. Kate is a nineteen-year-old woman who is working to save up money for college, and who hangs out drinking and shooting pool with her unstable boyfriend, Stephen, in her off time. Kate gets talked into going skydiving, an event that helps her overcome her fears of going mad like her father. In order to accurately reflect the skydiving sequences in the story, Edwards took skydiving lessons at a local airstrip, which helped give the story a greater sense of realism. The story also addresses many realistic issues, including mental degradation, the burden of responsibility, and suicide. A copy of the story can be found in the paperback version of The Secrets of a Fire King, which was published by Picador USA in 1998.
‘‘The Way It Felt to Be Falling’’ starts out with Kate, the narrator, describing the summer she turned nineteen. In the midst of a recession, her father’s consulting business has failed, an event that causes him to retreat into madness. Kate and her mother visit him in the hospital, but he does not notice them. Kate’s mother works as a secretary during the day and decorates cakes as a side job, in order to support the family. Kate recalls one day where the bottom layer of a finished wedding cake collapsed, and her mother, normally a calm person, broke down crying. Kate talks about her boyfriend that summer, Stephen, the unstable older brother of her friend, Emmy—who has left town with a number of others to follow the Grateful Dead on tour. Kate wanted to go, but is working in a convenience store to save money, and also does not want to leave her mother. Instead, Kate stays in her small town and watches the planes and skydivers. Kate also monitors herself in the mirror, searching for signs of the madness that has claimed her father.
That summer, Kate and Stephen, who is known for his violent and suicidal episodes, usually met at Mickey’s tavern to play pool. Kate did not like Stephen at first, because she was afraid of his scarred wrists and his massive consumption of Valium. After Emmy leaves town, Stephen starts to call Kate more often, and they begin to see each other. Stephen describes his suicide attempt to Kate, and Kate tries some of his Valium, liking the way that the drug blurs the lines of reality. The day that the wedding cake collapses, Kate arrives at Mickey’s tavern, and Stephen is worried about something. Kate finds out that he has lost a bet during a pool tournament and that he must go skydiving. Stephen says he will go alone, but when Ted, the winner, says he wants to be there to witness it, Stephen refuses, and asks Kate to serve instead. He also asks Kate to jump with him. Kate...
(The entire section is 788 words.)