Till the Stars Fall
By Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Publisher: ePublishing Works
(Originally published by Onyx, 1994)
Krissa and Danny French are a sister and brother who grow up in a mining community on the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota. Although only a year apart in age, their very different personalities keep Krissa and Danny from being close. Danny is a loner and a rebel, constantly challenging the status quo and dreaming of leaving the narrow world his family inhabits. Krissa, a year younger, is a people pleaser, a nice girl and straight-A student who follows all the rules and tries to pretend her family with her perfectionist mother and angry, abusive father is just like everyone else’s. The relationship between the siblings changes when Danny asks for Krissa’s help in redeeming his academic record so that he has a shot at a scholarship to an Ivy League school. Gradually, Danny’s dream of escape grows to include Krissa too. Danny gets his scholarship and leaves for Princeton. A year later, Krissa enters Bryn Mawr.
At Princeton, Danny meets Quinn Hunter, a child of privilege with no siblings. Although their looks, their temperaments, and their backgrounds are worlds apart, their talent and passion for music makes them friends. Soon they form Dodd Hall, a band named for the freshman dormitory at Princeton, with Quinn writing lyrics and Danny writing music. By the time Krissa comes east for school, Dodd Hall’s fortunes are on the rise. She becomes secretary, bookkeeper, manager, and booking agent for the band as well as their test audience for new songs.
Krissa and Quinn have feelings for one another from their first meeting, and in the first heady days of Dodd Hall’s ascension, they act on those feelings. Quinn writes “Cinnamon Starlight,” the first of what will become a series of songs for Krissa, his cinnamon-haired girl. As Dodd Hall becomes one of America’s premier rock bands, things get crazier. Professionals may have taken over some of Krissa’s roles, but she is no less necessary to the band, increasingly so as a mediator between Quinn and Danny whose closeness does not preclude disagreements and misunderstandings. Krissa feels as if she is losing herself and insists on devoting her final semester to being a student rather than flying in every weekend to wherever the band is performing.
When both Quinn and Danny pressure Krissa with daily phone calls, she returns to Minnesota for her spring break to escape. A chance meeting with Jerry Aarensson, a veteran ten years her senior, reminds her of the life she expected to lead before Danny urged her to leave, before she met Quinn. Jerry’s simplicity and the appeal of the familiar tempt Krissa. The weekend of her graduation, she calls Danny to tell him that she is marrying Jerry. Except for a brief exchange after her father’s death, Krissa and Quinn have no contact with one another for sixteen years. Within a year of her marriage, Dodd Hall breaks up. Their last song is recorded with Quinn and Danny singing with a tape of one another’s voice because they are no longer speaking.
After fifteen years of silence, as Krissa is waiting to hear news of Danny who has been hospitalized after an extended hunger strike as an act of political protest, Krissa receives a phone call from Quinn who shares her fear over the consequences of Danny’s activism. Krissa is now a divorced mother of four and secure in her identity. Quinn is now an orthopedic surgeon and, except for his role in rock history, no longer a public person. The connection between them is as strong as ever. Can they trust themselves and one another and give their love a second chance?
When I first read Till the Stars Fall back in the late 90s, I fell in love with these characters in all their complexity and realness. A reunion story, my favorite trope even then, it is also a triangle of relationships. Danny and Quinn are mirror images of one another in significant ways, down to the shape of their hands, but their brotherhood and their musical partnership is complicated by their differences. Danny is charismatic, but he is also manipulative and distrustful. He is not above using even Krissa for his purposes. Despite his privileged upbringing, Quinn is as much a victim of parental abuse as Danny, only the blows his selfish, elegant parents deliver are emotional rather than physical. Quinn sees in Krissa all he has ever wanted, and, almost from the beginning, imagines the two of them building a life together based on their perfect love. Krissa is very young, and she is a conditioned people pleaser. She loves her brother and wants to please him. She loves Quinn and wants to please him. When she becomes overwhelmed by their demands, she runs back to a life where she knows who she is and where she can meet people’s expectations as Krissa from the Range not as the cinnamon-haired girl. Even fifteen years later, all the complications among the three have not been resolved, and Krissa and Quinn’s path to an HEA is not a simple one. They must forgive themselves, a task sometimes more difficult than forgiving others.
I don’t like Danny very much, but I understand his charm and his twists. I love Krissa and empathize with her uncertainty, her love of harmony, and even her lack of courage in asserting herself. Quinn quite simply is my all-time favorite contemporary romance hero. When he needs literary inspiration to write lyrics for sensual love songs, he turns to 16th and 17th-century English poets, including John Donne. Irresistible for this English major! He is a legendary musician, a short story writer (published in the New Yorker), a successful doctor, and a philanthropist. Intelligent, creative, sensitive, and sexy, he still has flaws enough to keep him from being merely an unrealized fantasy figure. (Deep sigh here.)
Seidel structures the story with shifts between the 1990s and the 1970s, so that the reader is given the past and the present in increments. Both periods are richly detailed. Krissa’s life with her sons is as immediate and captivating as the story of Dodd Hall. Bits from various media—magazines such as Playboy and Rolling Stone, books, popular and academic, and radio—break into the narrative, giving Dodd Hall’s history and musical legacy another dimension of reality and further revealing the three lead characters.
Then there is Seidel’s incomparable prose with a lyrical quality that never moves into the overblown and a lucidity and preciseness that add levels of meaning to simple declarative sentences.
Example of the author’s lyricism:
“At night it was as if their bed were enchanted. Like a brass four-poster in a fairy tale, soaring through the night, it carried the two of them on a drifting, dreaming journey. They'd be kneeling in wonder, having tossed back the patchwork counterpane, looking down at the miniature world below, the lighted church steeples, and the shadowy parks. Together they were floating alone in the magic world of the stars.”
Example of the author’s lucidity and preciseness:
“Krissa and Jerry had not had a stressful marriage. They hadn't fought, they hadn't disagreed, they hadn't gotten on each other's nerves. But they had never sat at the side of the baby pool talking; they didn't have that much to say to each other.
“Jerry had respected her, and she had respected him. But before she had married him, she had been the Girl with Cinnamon Hair. She had moved in a cloud of starry devotion. Respect was not the same.”
I don’t think the perfect book exists, but I have a few romance novels on my keeper shelves that I consider thisclose to perfection. Till the Stars Fall is one of them. Each rereading—and there have been many, the most recent last month—reconfirms all the reasons I love this book. I am delighted that I now have a copy on my Kindle as well. I’m also delighted that when I say I give this book my highest recommendation, you can follow up and find a copy at all the usual eBook sites. (And when you finish this one, there are three other excellent Seidel books newly available in digital format.)