The Fal­con­er

  • Review
By – April 29, 2019

Lucy Adler, the sev­en­teen-year-old pro­tag­o­nist of Dana Czapnik’s spell­bind­ing debut nov­el, is con­stant­ly nego­ti­at­ing what it means to be a female ath­lete and intel­lec­tu­al in the image-obsessed Man­hat­tan of the ear­ly nineties. Czap­nik bril­liant­ly man­ages to por­tray Lucy as at once a cal­low teenag­er hun­gry for a con­stant adren­a­line rush, and a much wis­er adult capa­ble of observ­ing her short­com­ings from a dis­tance. The dual­i­ty of Lucy’s psy­che large­ly depends on Lucy’s secret love for Per­cy Abney, her best friend since child­hood. Although on the sur­face Per­cy rep­re­sents every­thing that Lucy is against — extreme wealth, male pow­er, and the illu­sion of per­fec­tion — she still wants des­per­ate­ly to be affirmed by him.

As a dou­ble-edged object of desire, Per­cy is much like The Fal­con­er stat­ue in Cen­tral Park that Lucy strug­gles to incor­po­rate into her self-under­stand­ing. On the one hand, the stat­ue of a young boy in tights, leg mus­cles blaz­ing, releas­ing a bird” cap­tures the elu­sive high Lucy gets every time she nails a jump shot. On the oth­er, it is a sym­bol of all that lay just out of reach; stat­ues like The Fal­con­er, Lucy thinks, are sin­gu­lar­ly made of boys, while stat­ues of girls are always doing some­thing fem­i­nine or unfun, like loung­ing half-naked by a spring, gen­tly dip­ping ele­gant fin­ger­tips in the water.… Why can’t girls with mus­cu­lar legs in leg­gings stand on a hill­top and release the bird?”

As the nar­ra­tive pro­gress­es, Lucy is forced to come to terms with the messi­ness of her female iden­ti­ty, and to accept that she will nev­er be able to fit into the icon­ic mold both Per­cy and The Fal­con­er embody. The more she reck­ons with this truth, the more will­ing she is to spend time in soli­tude, absorb­ing the frag­ment­ed life of New York City as a mir­ror for her own exis­tence. As rapid gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and con­sumerism increas­ing­ly divide Man­hat­tan from its more hum­ble roots, Lucy makes peace with her own ori­gins as the daugh­ter of low­er-mid­dle class hip­pies with lit­tle con­nec­tion to her part-Jew­ish heritage.

Lucy’s time alone becomes a cru­cial space for her to be more present in her body, more acute­ly attuned sounds of rhythms of the city. Tak­ing this pres­ence of mind with her onto the court inde­pen­dent­ly from her need for Percy’s approval, she begins to let go of the idea of bas­ket­ball as a means for real­iz­ing her free­dom as a fixed and mea­sur­able thing. By let­ting her­self be in the moment of the prac­tice, she learns to sur­ren­der to larg­er, unknow­able truths about life — par­tic­u­lar­ly the idea that love is not some­thing that can be earned or achieved, but rather some­thing that is an ever-shift­ing state, as tran­sient as the pas­sage of time. In relin­quish­ing unat­tain­able ideals, Lucy learns to immerse her­self in the invis­i­ble rush of ball on pave­ment. Silence. Air. Thwip. Ball on pave­ment. Ball on pave­ment. Feet on pave­ment. Ball on pave­ment. Silence. Air. Thwip. Again.” Here, Lucy finds room to observe the mir­a­cle of sim­ply being—the gift of exist­ing moment by moment for no one but herself.

Jaclyn Gilbert earned her B.A. at Yale and her MFA from Sarah Lawrence Col­lege. Her sto­ries, essays, and reviews have appeared in Tin House, Lit Hub, Long Reads, Post Road Mag­a­zine, and else­where. Late Air her first nov­el, released from Lit­tle A last November.

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