When the Leaves Fall
Bad Moon Books
Trade Paper, 100 pages, $15.00
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
When the Leaves Fall is a slight book in terms of length and story. Yet author Paul Melniczek infuses the slim tale with eloquent passages that flesh out the bones of the narrative. The plot can be thus distilled: One Halloween, a youth discovers that Graver’s Farm has horrifying secrets; he reveals that “Something terrible was happening in our small town. Something evil, beyond my understanding.”
The young man flees the community after acknowledging an evil which holds his hometown hostage. Ten years later, at the same time of year, he decides a confrontation is in order. In an unavoidable embracing of echoes of the past, the protagonist muses: “October; the dark season. And the inevitable holiday that waited patiently at the end of the orange and black month, its mouth smelling of cinnamon and bonfires, skeletal arms ushering cold evenings and longer nights, the firefly eyes promising mischief and magic.”
Facing realities can have a backlash, and the first person narrator warns of the perils of curiosity; the danger inherent in tying up loose ends. The novel harkens back to a theme explored in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives. In both books, a group is reduced to apathy; either by socialization (Wells) or replication/replacement (Levin.) The mind control that prevails in Melniczek’s rendering is darker and more primal.
When the Leaves Fall lovingly regards a season that is fascinating to the young. And also looks at the blacker and bleaker components which lie beneath the magic. Paul Melniczek lulls the reader into the seductive spell of fall, and then shakes him or her by the shoulders; reminding that cruel winter is lurking just around the corner. The reality is harsh, but the seduction is oh so sweet: “Leaves had begun their slow, patient glide to death weeks ago; and now September was just a recent memory, as October wrapped the landscape in its dusky arms and stole its life, peeling away the summer flowers and snatching away the burnt orange and yellow leaves, pulling them to the ground where they dried into husks and shriveled away.”
This novella is indeed laconic but extremely expansive in depth; the dimension belies the brevity.