Rebecca Coleman grew up around politics and politicians. In some respects, this may be what drew her to some of the weightier themes running through her latest novel, Heaven Should Fall. In the novel, Jill is a young, pregnant wife whose life is turned upside down during a seemingly innocent situation—a stint living with her husband Cade’s family. When Cade’s brother returns a changed man from Afghanistan and takes his own life, Cade becomes obsessed with finding answers. Unable to put his brother’s death behind him Cade, who once aspired to enter politics, turns to an unthinkable solution. The book, which early readers have likened to the work of Jodi Picoult, involved hours of research into PTSD and countless conversations with young veterans returning from Iraq. Coleman talked to us about how she became interested in the subject matter and what she’d like to see politicians discussing in this election year.
PW: Where did you get the idea for this novel?
RC: A lot of my book ideas, like those for my first novel [The Kingdom of Childhood], stem from a desire to get inside the head of someone whose thoughts I can’t understand,. someone who’s clearly going through something traumatic. In this case, I wanted to understand the experience of a soldier who, for whatever reason, can’t function the way he did before. I wanted to understand why that would be.
PW: What kind of research did you do for the book?
RC: I talked to soldiers. I did a lot of reading about PTSD. [For the latter], I found that this is something that the U.S. Military and Veteran Affairs has not handled very well. Soldiers…come home, and [it seems] that the government has left them behind. So when the character of Cade sees his brother abandoned, it makes him extremely angry. … I also talked to a lot of soldiers. I read a lot of accounts of soldiers with PTSD. I watched a lot of YouTube videos that my soldiers made.
PW: You grew up around Washington, D.C., and live there now. Do you think that experience drew you to this hot-button political topic?
RC: I was born in New York City, but I’ve lived [in D.C.] for most of my life. [I do think living here had an impact on the development of the character of] Cade, who is a volunteer in political campaigns. He’s wrapped up in the political process, something you often see in people here. Many people here truly believe [that they can help people through politics], and I was interested in what happens when folks become disgruntled with that. .. I also think that the local, Washington news is national news and vice versa. … So the experience of people directly involved in government is very close to me.
PW: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
RC: That the war isn’t over when the drawdown ends. There are two million soldiers who have fought in this war, and they are going to need ongoing help and care. The news cycle tends to be dismissive of things it perceives to be over. Just because the media says the war is over, well, that isn’t the case for the people who fought it. And that needs to be respected. It also comes down to grief. You have people grieving for lost comrades, for the loss of a normal life, and you can’t put a timetable on grief. That’s something these soldiers will be experiencing for a very long time.
(Year: 2012 / Pub Month: October / Title: Heaven Should Fall / Author: Rebecca Coleman / Format: Trade w/Flaps / ISBN: 978-0-7783-1389-2 / Price: $15.95 U.S. and $18.95 CAN.)