We won’t be able to gather in Billings this fall–and Billings always feels like coming home–but I’m honored Fall Back Down When I Die is a finalist for the 2020 High Plains Book Award in Fiction. And really jazzed to share this honor with friends Pam L. Houston (Deep Creek, Creative Nonfiction) and Jory Mickelson (Wilderness//Kingdom, Poetry).
The French edition of Fall Back Down When I Die just hit bookstores, and, wow, it looks pretty good. Kind of amazing to see this Montana story make its way into the world.
In his unforgettable first novel, Wilkins writes of hardscrabble life on the northern Great Plains, creating characters with rich if troubled interior lives who are haunted by absent fathers.
Big news: Fall Back Down When I Die is a finalist for the prestigious First Novel Prize from the Center for fiction. Feeling real good about this! Here’s more from the Center for Fiction:
We are pleased to announce that debut novels by Chia-Chia Lin, Julia Phillips, Pitchaya Sudbanthad, Ocean Vuong, Joe Wilkins, Lauren Wilkinson, and De’Shawn Charles Winslow are shortlisted for the 2019 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize! The finalists will read from their books and celebrate their achievement with the wider literary community at the First Novel Fête on December 9, 2019, to be held at the Center’s downtown Brooklyn location. The following evening, we will present the award to the winner at the Center’s Annual Benefit and Awards Dinner in New York City. Judges this year are Maaza Mengiste, Claire Messud, Tommy Orange, Emma Straub, and Monique Truong.
The First Novel Prize, launched in 2006, was created as part of our literary nonprofit’s central mission to promote the art of storytelling and help further the careers of new writers. This annual prize carries a $10,000 cash award. Each of the other shortlisted authors will receive a $1,000 award.
“Gorgeous . . . Spellbinding . . . The land itself is almost a living character in the book, rendered both beautiful and ominous in Wilkins’s poetic prose . . . A gripping debut.” —Sarah Gilman, High Country News
“Early in Joe Wilkins’s first novel, Fall Back Down When I Die, he writes, “The moon came up whistle thin. A tooth, a claw, the leanest blade.” This language carries through the rest of the novel, and it is symbolic of the stunning, haunting, and complex story that Wilkins weaves.” —Andrew Jones, Split Rock Review
Been a wonderful spring and early summer of readings, and I’m pleased as can be Fall Back Down When I Die is garnering great reviews across the Northwest!
“There isn’t a wrong note in Wilkins’s novel. He manages to pull off the development of characters simultaneous with a growing sense of unease; the storm is becoming visible on the horizon…Wilkins is evolving into one of our best American writers.”―Chris La Tray, The Missoulian
“Nuanced and textured…Fall Back Down When I Die seeks to point a way forward toward community and compassion, toward understanding.”―Rachel Hergett, Bozeman Daily Chronicle
“Powerful…This is a story of realistic, complex characters whose lives intersect on a big canvas — as big as eastern Montana…Joe Wilkins infuses his novel with a sense of personal attachment to both the history and current realities of life and conflict across the vast landscape.” – Mindy Cameron, Lewiston Tribune
I’m a bit behind with these, but am just pleased as can be that Fall Back Down When I Die continues to garner strong reviews. Below, you can find selections from recent reviews at the Wall Street Journal, Orion, and Outside, and, too, you can check out Lithub’s Every Day Is Earth Day list of novels and poetry, which, alongside works by luminaries like John Steinbeck and Ursula K. Le Guin, includes Fall Back Down When I Die!
Wilkins’s propulsive debut, “Fall Back Down When I Die,” takes place in and around the Bull Mountains of eastern Montana during the Obama presidency, when anti-government paranoia escalated into sporadic crescendos of violence. Mr. Wilkins charts that course with skill and concision […] Though he stresses the persistence of kindness and community, the enduring depiction in “Fall Back Down When I Die” is of a small-scale civil war pitting towns, neighbors, childhood friends and family members against one another. Blood ties to the land result in generation-spanning blood debts.– Sam Sax, the Wall Street Journal
To read Joe Wilkins’s first novel is to spend time in eastern Montana, to feel the sharp wind cutting across the cedar ridges, through the sagebrush and bunchgrass, kicking up dust that gathers into grit at the corner of your eyes. It is to hear the sweet, languid whistles of the meadowlarks in the fields. It is to feel “the gravel and the ruts and the old cracked tires” beneath you and to see, above you, always, the wide sky, its “whole box of colors” and its “extravagant stars,” that pull of the sublime to lift your gaze from the intractable earth. And it is to know how hard-earned the beauty is. Wilkins achieves a rich evocation of place through seasoned language, tough and tender like the steak the characters are always eating. It is a landscape where they chew on their trouble, pick old bones, are gnawed at by their losses.– Holly Haworth, Orion
Wilkins’s novel feels insightful amid the ongoing debate over public land and legal rights, but it’s also timeless, and it treads the same kind of territory as writers like Kent Haruf and Ivan Doig, digging into quiet stories of people living close to the land.– Heather Hansman, Outside
A little late with this, but I’ve got an essay up over at Lithub about rural America, community, and cultural division.