Falling Sideways: A Novel by Thomas E. Kennedy (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011 304 pp)

Born in New York City, Thomas Kennedy wanted to become a writer after reading Dosteovsky’s Crime and Punishment. Kennedy earned a B.A. in language and literature from City College of New York. Immediately after his undergraduate studies, Kennedy took a job as News Editor of World Medical Journal based in France. After a few years at the journal, Kennedy took a job with the Danish Medical Association. It wasn’t until 1981 that Kennedy published his first work in a literary journal. In 1985, he received his MFA from Vermont College and, then, received a Ph.D. in American Literature at the University of Copenhagen. Kennedy has won the O. Henry Award, a Puschart Prize, the Frank Expatriate Award, and two Eric Hoffer Book Awards. He lives in Denmark.

Review copy courtesy of Librarything Early Reviewers

A Nominee for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award

While I do not consider myself a prude, I often find the descriptions of sex in novels to be awkward, misplaced, and unconvincing. Of course, I would rather find authors willing to mention these taboo subjects encountered in everyday life than having them merely avoiding it. But, it seems like authors tend to lean on shock value and graphic description instead of artful representation.
Humorously, Literary Review has hosted the Bad Sex in Fiction Award for the last twenty years. Highlighting the worst in sexual encounters, the award honors the misuse of sex in literary fiction.
Thomas Kennedy’s new work, Falling Sideways, ought to be the frontrunner for the 2011 Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Inserted in most chapters and shamelessly described, sex is the central narrative feature of the book.

The Tank

Set in Copenhagen, Denmark, Falling Sideways follows the lives of employees at the Tank, an ambiguously defined company that monetized some sort of intellectual property but is currently falling on hard times.
The actions of the company are, in fact, so pointless, that Jes, the son of one character, proclaims,

“It seemed to [Jes] that almost nobody in Denmark actually did anything anymore; they all just sat in offices sending e-mails to one another or went to meetings where they sat around a table and talked about the e-mails” (105).

Downsizing Brings Out the Worst in People

With an unstable economy, the Tank’s CEO, Martin Kampman (a calculated and unemotional individual), must reshuffle the organization, trim its fat, and promote efficiency.
These swirling rumors about downsizing make most employees work in fear; they release tension through various addictive tendencies such as smoking, drinking, and sex.
As an example of one addictive tendency, Kennedy writes,

“It seemed smoking was responsible for just about all the evils of the world now. It had gotten to be embarrassing even to buy cigarettes. Maybe they would pass a law that would require you to say to the shop clerk: I am an idiot. May I have a pack of Prince Silvers, please? And if you didn’t: Sorry, madam, but you didn’t say you were an idiot. The law requires…” (89).

A Snooze in Copenhagen

Sadly, despite an intriguing premise behind the book, Kennedy’s prose and narrative structure are merely adequate. Of course, the previously mentioned insistence on bluntly depicting sex provides a hindrance to the storyline. But even more, Kennedy spends little time creating compelling characters.
Aside from the ease of reading the book, I found little enjoyment in reading it. Moreover, not many literary themes held my attention throughout the book.
In perhaps the only interesting twist, Kennedy has created a world of anxiety, depression, and regret in a setting well known as the happiest place on earth. Yet, such an observance only bolsters a book in conjunction with deeper characters and plotlines.
Despite being a frontrunner for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, I find little reason to recommend Falling Sideways.



4 Comments Leave a comment
  • debd

    nice review, even if the book ended up being a dud. I agree with you on sex scenes in books. I'd rather have it implied rather than described, but that is me. I usually just gloss over it in a book. I know what's happening, don't need to read about it. 😉

  • Donovan Richards

    Thanks for the comment Deb. I can't believe how often a book sex scene reads awkwardly. Perusing the Literary Review, it is amazing how many fantastic authors grace the list.

  • Anonymous

    So sex is a central theme and you think Kennedy what, over-describes it? I've read the book and I think Kennedy has a knack for getting in and out (beg your pardon) of those intimate scenes in a timely and interesting way. None of it is pornographic and all of it is spot-on and absolutely true to life. He's as good at handling sex as Philip Roth is or John Updike was. I can't believe you found nothing about the book to recommend. A lot of people who are being “downsized” booted out beaten and broken will identify with many of the characters in FALLING SIDEWAYS. Sincerely, HDS Gulbrenson

  • Donovan Richards

    Thanks for the comment HDS, I'm not saying that Falling Sideways is pornographic; I just am not a huge fan of the way it is described. Even the best writers struggle penning this topic. I am sure some might like this book as you did. I, sadly, am not one of them.

Leave a Comment