Catherine Gildiner’s continuation of her life story in After the Falls offers a first-hand experience of what it meant to participate in the social revolution of the sixties. Gildiner was admittedly a difficult child, and she was no less difficult as a teenager and young adult. In this second installation of her memoir, she explores the tension surrounding race and equality as she perceived it then.
Gildiner’s tone here is one of honesty in both the stories she relates and in her upfront admission that there has been some embellishment. She acknowledges the foibles of the genre within the first pages and quickly moves on. Throughout the story Gildiner is reluctant to linger on any particular event, exposing a conflicted sense of what it means to linger. To write a memoir in the first place suggests some predilection to linger in the past for whatever reason, but Gildiner provides the information and quickly moves on with little or no exposition.
While the stories themselves are entertaining (sometimes morbidly, sometimes not), the authorial voice feels reserved at times. Gildiner was involved in many efforts to promote equality, and she spends the most time discussing the seemingly innocuous ones. She quickly discusses her work with youth and social reform, but she doesn’t expound on her efforts or what became of them. She discusses her efforts with SNCC and SCLC, but when she leaves the movement (for reasons I won’t disclose here), readers are left wondering if she ever became involved in social change again.
The abrupt nature of her discussion foreshadows the end of the book, which happens far more quickly than the reader is prepared for it to happen. Gildiner closes out her story, and the reader is left wondering why. Why did she choose that moment as a stopping point in her story? Why does the reader feel somewhat unfulfilled at the end? Will there be another installation of Gildiner’s life story?
Conclusively readers will leave the book with a sense of curiosity both about the time Gildiner discusses and about the author herself. While Gildiner does discuss some of the important events of the sixties, she holds herself in reserve, something her readers will find lamentable at times.