Synopses & Reviews
A daughter's unforgettable memoir of her wild and haunted father, a man whose war never really ended.
From her father, Danielle Trussoni learned rock and roll, how to avoid the cops, and never to shy away from a fight. Growing up, she was fascinated by stories of his adventures as a tunnel rat in Vietnam, where he risked his life crawling headfirst into holes to search for American POWs held underground. Ultimately, Danielle came to believe that when the man she adored drank too much, beat up strangers, or mistreated her mother, it was because the horror of those tunnels still lived inside him. Eventually her mom gave up and left, taking all the kids except one: Danielle. When everyone else walked away and washed their hands of Dan Trussoni, Danielle would not. Now she tells their story.
As Danielle trails her father through nights at Roscoe's Vogue Bar, scores of wild girlfriends, and years of bad dreams, a vivid and poignant portrait of a father-daughter relationship unlike any other emerges. Although the Trussonis are fiercely committed to each other, theirs is a love story filled with anger, stubbornness, outrageous behavior, and battle scars that never completely heal.
Beautifully told in a voice that is defiant, funny, and yet sometimes heartbreaking, Falling through the Earth immediately joins the ranks of those classic memoirs whose characters imprint themselves indelibly into readers' lives.
Falling through the Earth is the winner of the Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award for 2005/06. It was chosen by Marilynne Robinson and James A. McPherson. The award is given every two years by the workshop to honor the best book written by a graduate of the workshop during this time.
"Trussoni's memoir tells many potentially interesting stories: of her father's traumatic experiences as a Vietnam tunnel rat; of her own smalltown Wisconsin childhood in the 1980s with a volatile dad; of her flirtations with delinquency; and of her family history of implied criminal links (involving 'the Italian mafia, drug smuggling, and a Chicago pizza joint'). As Trussoni's sister suggests, these are all stories of unconventional lives worthy of "an episode on Jerry Springer.' Alas, the book Trussoni has produced, while well-crafted, as befits an Iowa Writers' Workshop alum and award winner, is deadly dull. Told in fashionably nonlinear style, these juxtaposed tales become a hodge-podge shoving the reader about, from hanging out at Roscoe's bar with Trussoni's father, to purchasing a notebook, to getting a bad haircut. Her brother gets hit by a car, her sister gets pregnant after a one-night stand, her father gets cancer. Off and on, a war souvenir skull surfaces, as does a stalker, adding mystery without eventual clarity. In this awkward weave of her father's tale with her self-absorbed growing-up memoir, Trussoni sacrifices emphasis and dilutes empathy." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Trussoni has taken an extended trip to hell and come back with treasures from that drunken, burning, broken place....Even if this book were not urgently important and devastatingly timely, I'd still urge you to read it for the sheer triumph of the author's gift." Alexandra Fuller, author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
"Trussoni's memoir is a richly textured history of her father's war and the long term effects his service had on her and her family....This is an important and harrowing story." Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead
"[A] superb memoir. [Trussoni] has composed a modern-day father-quest true-life story and by doing so she has bridged the gap between those who fought in the Vietnam War and those who grew up in the following decades. She writes for those who remain slightly afraid yet always driven by a need to understand others' psychic convulsions. Her book is a captivating triumph." Michael James, The Capital Times (Madison)
"The affection, respect and humor [Trussoni] brings to the task of revealing this complicated individual is testimony both to her creative abilities and to the generosity of her spirit." Kathryn Harrison, New York Times Book Review
"Beautifully written and honestly rendered, [Falling through the Earth] shows how war reverberates through the families of survivors: the failed marriages, scarred children and misdirected lives." Dan Pope, Hartford Courant
"All three story lines are intertwined into an extremely engaging, novel-like narrative that leaves an indelible imprint on the heart and mind." Library Journal
"One of the best portrayals in recent memory of what it's like to grow up in a screwed-up, working-class family." Booklist
"Danielle Trussoni unflinchingly explores a daughter's love for her flawed father and confronts the demons that haunt them both....[T]ender and tough, harrowing and triumphant. Jeanette Walls, author of The Glass Castle
"Like the fearless father she takes after, Danielle Trussoni tunnels at her story from both ends: Through the rabbit hole of childhood, she explores a tumultuous divorce. From the trench of adulthood, she leads us through a country still poisoned by war. But Falling through the Earth has an innermost chamber. It is a place of profound depth and beauty, where Trussoni unearths Trussoni herself." Koren Zailckas, author of Smashed
A vivid and poignant memoir of a father-daughter relationship describes growing up with her Vietnam veteran father, a man haunted by his wartime experiences as a tunnel rat, and details their fierce commitment to each other despite the anger, unhealed battle scars, drinking, and outrageous behavior that permeated their lives. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.
One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year
From her charismatic father, Danielle Trussoni learned how to rock and roll, outrun the police, and never shy away from a fight. Spending hour upon hour trailing him around the bars and honky-tonks of La Crosse, Wisconsin, young Danielle grew up fascinated by stories of her dad's adventures as a tunnel rat in Vietnam, where he'd risked his life crawling head first into narrow passageways to search for American POWs.
A vivid and poignant portrait of a daughter's relationship with her father, this funny, heartbreaking, and beautifully written memoir "makes plain that the horror of war doesn't end in the trenches" (Vanity Fair).
About the Author
Danielle Trussoni, who grew up and now lives in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. On the strength of the first 20 pages she ever wrote (which became part of this book) she was admitted to the Iowa Writers' Workshop from which she graduated in May 2002.
Reading Group Guide
1. When we meet Daniel Trussoni, he is a man broken by the events in his life. His brother says he came back from Vietnam a changed man, that war scarred his soul and divorce broke his heart. Which do you think has damaged him more? Is the war responsible for everything that happened to the Trussoni family?
2. Daniel was neither for nor against the war -- how did that affect his experiences there? Why did Daniel join the tunnel squad? Did he feel he could handle the worst war had to offer and come out unscathed? How did living in mortal fear every moment affect him? Did the suffering Daniel experienced in Vietnam bring him the wisdom and strength he expected? Why didnt he consider the consequences?
3. By the time Danielle is eleven, the household is deteriorating and her father knows he is losing her mother. Her mother takes a night job and is spending more time out of the house. How is Danielle affected when her mother draws away from the family? Did the fact that her father encouraged her to be independent make her inaccessible to friends?
4. For Daniel there was never any gray area -- either his children were for him or against him. Why did Danielle always cover up and apologize for him? Her mother thinks Danielle did not love her. Why does she choose her father over her mother? Why would Dan want Danielle to come live with him? How did being Dads favorite affect her childhood? Why did she leave her siblings?
5. Danielle went to church as a part of her Catholic-school curriculum. During her parents separation, the Father of the congregation is killed. How does that incident affect her burgeoning feelings of faith?
6. How was Danielle affected by seeing Rita Trussoni, her half sister? Did it feed Danielles fears of abandonment and banishment?
7. Danielle steals from her father and one of his girlfriends, and then later she shoplifts. Her father always instilled the importance of trust in his children. Why does Danielle steal?
8. At one point in their development, Danielle switches places with her sister Kelly and becomes the vulnerable one in the family. Why? How does Kelly learn to survive her father? Was it by becoming pregnant and raising a child on her own?
9. When she is in college, Danielle tells her father she wants to write about the tunnels, even invites him to accompany her to Vietnam. But he only wants to forget the whole experience. He says, "I gave that war to you." Do you think that is true?
10. While she is in Vietnam, Danielle feels the place has a powerful hold over her. How does the stalker there act as a metaphor for what overcame her father?
11. In Vietnam Danielle meets Jim and Patty. Jim explains what he thinks is the difference between WWll and Vietnam veterans: WWll vets came back winners. Through his trips back to Vietnam, Jim seems to have put his demons to rest. Discuss how Jim and Pattys marriage survived and Danielles parents did not. Everyone in her family advocates looking forward, not back. Has that been a mistake?
12. How does her fathers alcoholism affect the family in general and Danielles relationship with him in particular? Does her father understand the effect of his outbursts on her and his other children? He was diagnosed with PTSD a full thirty-five years after the war, but Daniel doesnt believe his problems really affected his family. Does Daniel ever take responsibility for how he treats them?
13. Danielle and her siblings are exposed to many women coming through their fathers house and at Roscoes bar. How did this affect their behavior? As she gets older, Danielle is attracted to troubled men, ones she feels she can rescue. Her first experiences of sex are negative. How has her relationship with her father influenced her relationships with other men?
14. As she gets older Danielle does not speak to her father for long periods of time. When and why does she begin to break away? How similar are father and daughter?
15. Why does Danielle really go to Vietnam? Is it only to discover the forces that formed her father? Does she accomplish what she intended? Once she experiences Vietnam, is she able to come to terms with her father at last? Does her journey bring acceptance or healing? When Danielle is in graduate school, she receives a tape from her father with scenes from her childhood. Can she now make peace with him?