We all love an underdog. But we must admit, we also love watching a top dog fail and fall spectacularly. Robert Goolrick explores that very phenomenon in his book The Fall of Princes—a tale of a Wall Street trader’s incredible rise to glory and the moment it all slipped out from under him. While Goolrick also finds pleasure in the fall, he finds even more so in what comes next: redemption, resilience, rebuilding. Here, Goolrick shares why he loves that precious moment between falling and rising again.
Millions of people saw it live on television, the lovely girl in the voluminous Dior dress, all fresh skin and billowing material of the palest pink, falling on the stairs as she walked up to get her Oscar. Her long arms reached out as she fell and caught her, fingers spread wide, and she rose from the steps and stepped up to get her award. The evening went on, and it was largely forgotten. I, on the other hand, was electrified. I was obsessed.
Somehow, I managed to get a copy of the photograph that had flashed around the world, and it sits, framed in silver, on my bedside table. I look at it every day. By coincidence, a friend of mine who is a marvelous artist in Toronto was equally obsessed with this moment, and she began to make dozens of drawings of the nanosecond of the movie star’s fall, even after it was long forgotten by the rest of the world. She and I discussed it, dissected our fascination, and, one day, there arrived in the mail a drawing which is now framed and hangs in my dining room. The artist went on to have an exhibition in Los Angeles entirely devoted to drawings of The Fall, but I treasure my two images. They are never far from my mind, and, as I wrote The Fall of Princes, I thought of them often.
We are fascinated by the great fall. We feel a schadenfreude watching a movie star in a couture gown falling in front of millions of people. We cringe, but it makes us happy, as any fall from greatness brings a smile to our lips.
But, to me, in the photograph on my bedside table, and the exquisite drawing in my dining room, there is another message, a glorious message that helps me get out of bed and face the day. To me, in the picture, the movie star is not falling but rising. The picture catches her at the exact midpoint between falling and rising, and it is the rising that catches my heart, that makes me want to live and work and love. The rising gives me the strength to continue, and it means everything.
In my book, a young man flies too high and falls too fast, an Icarus with no name. Then he rises again, changed forever, changed from something dazzling and rich and powerful into something ordinary and anonymous but proud.
In every meteoric rise, there are elements of both admiration and jealousy. In every fall, there is glee that such greatness should come to such ignominy. But in every fall, there is also the promise of redemption, and that’s what fascinates us so.
In The Fall of Princes, I am in love with my man’s hubris and arrogance. But it is his fall and acceptance and humility in the face of ordinary life that make him great, in my eyes.
We all rise. We all walk the tightrope of the heights of life, even if it’s just in the first kiss of falling in love. There is no greater height and no greater risk. And we all run the risk of falling at any moment. We fall out of love. We get fired from our dream job. We lose all our money, our houses burn down, our fathers die and leave us orphans.
But we rise. And we never stop rising. Rising into the ordinary. Rising into the real. And, for me, that is what makes us human. And being human is what makes us great. That is our only redemption. And it is a never-ending loveliness.
In addition to his most recent novel, The Fall of Princes, Robert Goolrick is the author of three other books: The End of the World as We Know It, a memoir; his first novel, A Reliable Wife, with sales of more than 1 million copies; and his second novel, Heading Out to Wonderful. He lives in Virginia.