Olshan, Joseph. “Black Diamond Fall”, Polis Books, 2018
One Winter in Rural Vermont
“Black Diamond Fall” is a literary mystery that is based on two real events that took place at Middlebury College in Vermont. Yet it is more than just a mystery in that it looks at passion and love, sexuality and grief and anger. It is the skill of writer Joseph Olshan and how he crafts the mystery as part of his characters emotions.
Luc Flanders is a student at Middlebury, a small Vermont college. As a teen, he suffered a traumatic brain industry that has caused him to be guarded. He is also complex as we might imagine, and this is probably because this is his second chance at leading a “normal” life. One night, after playing hockey on a frozen pond with his roommates, he realizes he lost something that is important to him and so he goes back to the pond to find it. Once back there, he encounters someone and never returns.
Luc’s parents, roommates, ex-girlfriend, even the police are at a loss as to what happened to Luc and although some have suspicions, no one really knows. But then, it is learned that Luc has been involved in a secret relationship with Sam Solomon, an architect who is closer to his parents’ age than to his own. There were those who knew that Luc was hiding something but no one suspected that this is what it was.
Luc’s disappearance puts pressure on Sam with the police interrogating him about it and the relationship between the two of them. He did not want his relationship with Luc to end and could not understand why Luc refused to accept and acknowledge his sexuality. Luc was even ready to give up loving someone and being loved in return.
Then the home of poet Robert Frost that is not far from the college campus, is vandalized. During the police investigation, some links between it and Luc’s disappearance are discovered and there is the question whether the two are connected in some way. The parts of the story that deal with Luc and Sam are beautifully written and quite painful to read. Here is Olshan’s skill once again as he writes with emotion about the conflicts that Luc faces and how he feels about love and being loved. We feel Luc’s conflicts as if they are our own (we have probably dealt with the same emotions as we acknowledged who we are) and we likewise feel the sadness and grief that Sam feels while dealing with his sense of loss.
The police department in Middlebury is divided as to what happened to Luc and some feel that Flanders left on his own accord and is deliberately staying out of touch. Then there are those like detectives Nick Jenkins and Helen Kennedy who suspect that he has been harmed. As the search continues, suspicions are raised about several different people, including Luc’s roommates, his ex-girlfriend and Sam (who is unable to prove where he was when Luc disappeared).
As Luke Flanders disappears, the Robert Frost house near the Middlebury campus is vandalized. The police are determined to discover if there is a link between the Robert Frost house and Luc’s disappearance. As I said earlier, this is more than just a mystery; it also examines desire and the lies we tell others and ourselves.
The characters propel the story forward and as we read about them, we find ourselves becoming close to those we identify with and we hope that they are not implicated in the event (I hesitate to use the word crime until it is established that there is indeed a crime) we have here.
Olshan is a master of description and of creating an atmosphere for his novel and I felt the crispness of a cold Vermont night that is also a night of secrets. The story comes to us in several points of view— the investigators, Luc’s mother, Sam, and Luc himself that adds another layer to the mystery, however yet even with this Luc remains a mystery. I cannot tell you whether or not everything comes together in the end but I can tell you that the ending will haunt you long after you close the covers.
The more that I write here, the more I feel that to say anymore would spoil the read for others and so I will stop but I must add that if you want to read beautiful prose and a seductive story, then “Black Diamond Fall” is the book for you. Joseph Olshan secures his place in the canon with yet another beautifully written book.