The Beauty of the Fall: A Novel

A TECHNOLOGY EXECUTIVE CHARTS A HIGH-RISK, UNCONVENTIONAL PATH WHILE GRIEVING THE LOSS OF HIS SON

Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year-old son, Zack. When Dan’s longtime friend and boss fires Dan from RadioRadio, the company that he helped create, he crashes and isolates himself.

Willow, a poet and domestic violence survivor, helps Dan regain his footing. With her support, Dan ventures on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Fortune 500 companies to flesh out a software start-up idea. He then recruits three former RadioRadio colleagues and starts Conversationworks, a company he believes will be at the vanguard of social change.

Guided by Dan’s leadership, Conversationworks enjoys some early successes, but its existence is soon threatened on multiple fronts. Will Dan survive the ensuing corporate battles and realize the potential of his company? Or will he be defeated by his enemies and consumed by his grief?
Editorial Reviews
Review
Rich Marcello’s new novel centers on a tech entrepreneur who tries to change the world as he grapples with personal demons. Dan Underlight, an executive at the technology firm RadioRadio, has survived a divorce and the death of his ten-year-old son, Zack. Then Dan’s boss, Olivia, who has been a close friend, fires him. Dan’s friend Willow, a free-spirited poet and advocate for domestic violence victims, buoys him after this third loss, encouraging Dan to start over and build the company of his dreams. The two become lovers. Dan recruits three former colleagues, and together they start Conversationworks, a company that aims to solve societal problems by aggregating the results of virtual conversations held worldwide. The new company is successful, especially after Willow joins the team and spearheads an effort to combat violence against women. But with success comes unwelcome attention, particularly from Olivia, who grows jealous as RadioRadio’s star fades. Meanwhile, Dan struggles to find meaning when he betrays Willow’s trust and continues to grapple with Zack’s loss. The Beauty of the Fall has a great deal to recommend it to readers of literary fiction: the excitement of a business venture, the poignancy of a primal loss and a host of unusual characters. Marcello doesn’t pull his punches when describing Dan’s self-destructive behavior (born of his grief and helplessness), nor does he force a happy ending. Marcello’s novel should appeal to some fans of such socially conscious authors as Barbara Kingsolver and Ruth Ozeki. A more consistent narrative tone, however, could greatly broaden its potential audience. -blueink reviews

Ten-year-old Zackery Underlight is dead. His father Dan however, is just learning to live again. There is a certain haunting lyricism to this remarkable book about a father coming to grips with the death of his only son – a death he feels he caused. There’s also a tortured search for self-renewal and forgiveness that extends far beyond the natural grieving of a parent for his child . . . These carefully paced reveals of a deeply conflicted character – coupled with a fascinating glimpse into how high-tech start-ups are born – make this one of the year’s best works of literary fiction . . . Its rich depth, satisfying substance, and willingness to examine key social issues such as global warming and battered women, force the reader to confront the truly inconvenient truths all around us while remaining invested in the story’s key players . . . This is a rare read, and one to be savored, especially now, when seeking respite from the current worries of an uncertain national – and international – future. It’s good tonic for the soul; a restorative tale of perseverance against all odds . . . Five-plus stars to Beauty of the Fall. From start to finish, it never disappoints. – Publishers Daily Reviews

”Few novels are as intelligent and relevant as The Beauty of the Fall. Almost none is as eloquent, compelling, heartbreaking, and ultimately, uplifting.” —Mark Spencer, Faulkner Award winner and author of Ghostwalking

”Rich Marcello’s The Beauty of the Fall takes the reader on two intriguing journeys: the exciting coffee-fueled rise of a high-tech start-up and the emotional near-collapse of the man behind the revolutionary company, his personal journey through grief and healing.” –Jessamyn Hope, author of Safekeeping

”Rich Marcello’s third novel, The Beauty of the Fall, intermixes poetry and prose fluidly throughout the manuscript, and in fact, incorporates poetry as one of its major themes. As a practicing poet, I was swept away by the lyrical language, the characters, and the unexpected twists and turns in the plot. Overall, a great and inspiring read!” —Rebecca Givens Rolland, author of The Wreck of Birds
From the Back Cover
Ten-year-old Zackery Underlight is dead. His father Dan, however, is just learning to live again.
There is a certain haunting lyricism to this remarkable book about a father coming to grips with the death of his only son — a death he feels he caused. There’s also a tortured search for self-renewal and forgiveness that extends far beyond the natural grieving of a parent for his child.
Other recent losses for Dan include a failed marriage and the sudden evaporation of his high-powered, high-tech job — the one that consumed so much of the time he now feels he should have spent with Zack.
On the one hand, he feels keenly the unfocused anger and seeming senselessness of his situation. But, on the other, he feels the need to harness and channel his rage and guilt into something constructive and therapeutic.
So, improbably, he begins an offbeat pilgrimage across America, covering twelve thousand miles, thirty-two states — and 234 Fortune 500 companies. His goal: to construct a Lilliputian pyramid of small stones on the campus of every corporate giant across the nation.
If this sounds strange, it somehow makes perfect sense in the context of this masterfully written book. Dan is searching for something intangible as he pursues his odd quest. At one point prior to beginning, he ponders to himself:

“How can I extract meaning from the universe when loss and betrayal have corroded and burnt my cherished memories? How can I reconstitute after being charred and dissolved?”
It’s a fair question about the vagaries of the cosmos, and, as he brings his odyssey to an abrupt halt just off I-5 in California — the result of being robbed by a hitchhiker — he decides to turn his energy in a new direction: the startup of his own tiny technology firm.
ConversationWorks, or “CW,” takes off like a bullet shot into cyberspace. It’s a brand-new social media app that places far-flung parties in a series of virtual conference rooms to find solutions to weighty problems facing the world.
At least that’s the idealistic objective. Here’s Dan’s overarching vision of the singular, groundbreaking concept:
“ConversationWorks is a local problem-solving network with global scale. It’s software that allows small group conversation to scale all the way from coffeehouses, to towns, to cities, to the world, with the primary goal of collectively working on problems that matter to its users.”
It is, effectively, a technology platform where “conversations are active and focused on solving problems instead of socializing.”
So, imagine Twitter without the interaction-limiting, forced brevity; Facebook without the memes and cute kittens. Instead, there is substantive dialogue and meaningful social change through consensus and aggregated resolve.
The software and revolutionary VR hardware that make it work, however, are quickly subverted by early adopters to far less noble notions — such as ordinary business teleconferencing, family-to-family interactions, virtual blind dates, and even pornography (which the team quickly bans).
And through it all — the eager market acceptance, the explosive worldwide growth — Dan is still filled with relational angst.
He parts ways with gentle Willow, his first companion since he and his wife split up. He clings desperately to his core development team at CW. And he increasingly has extended conversations with his dead son — full-blown, holographic encounters in which a now-teen-aged Zack gives his father sage advice on his day-to-day decisions.
And there are other, darker rituals into which Dan drifts, seeking solace in a self-imposed purgatory amidst universal acclaim for his world-changing creation.
These carefully paced reveals of a deeply conflicted character — coupled with a fascinating glimpse into how high-tech start-ups are born — make this one of the year’s best works of literary fiction.
Its rich depth, satisfying substance, and willingness to examine key social issues such as global warming and battered women, force the reader to confront the truly inconvenient truths all around us while remaining invested in the story’s key players.
Indeed, the book strikes a beautiful balance between detailed, fact-filled exposition and the need to drive the central storyline forward — often with compellingly evocative prose and poetry:

“Against my cheek, her shawl smells like freshly woven wool on a cold fall day and feels like a refuge after too many unkind nights.”

And, this, upon hearing of Zack’s death:

“Ghosts pass through me like dry ice, drain whatever life energy exists.”

And, finally, this, after a boardroom showdown with Dan’s former boss:

“Olivia smiles as if the blood is already on her teeth.”

So much good imagery en route to a satisfying conclusion.

This is a rare read, and one to be savored, especially now, when seeking respite from the current worries of an uncertain national — and international — future. It’s good tonic for the soul; a restorative tale of perseverance against tall odds.

Five-plus stars to Beauty of the Fall. From start to finish, it never disappoints.
-Publishers Daily Reviews

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