We All Fall Down

Written by David Blixt Deborah Swift J. K. Knauss Jean Gill Katherine Pym Kristin Gleeson Laura Morelli Lisa J. Yarde Melodie Winawer
Review by Pamela Schoenewaldt

In these pandemic times, readers of historical fiction will find deep resonance with stories of the Black Death and other pandemics. In this short story collection, editor J. K. Knauss asks nine award-winning writers for their take on the theme: “Plague has no favorites.”

Most stories are set in the time of the Black Death (ca. 1347), but we also journey to Ireland after the Norman Invasion and Ottoman-occupied Greece, and time-travel between 2020 and London in plague times. The Black Death (then termed “The Great Mortality”) swept across the known world. Paupers, slaves, wealthy merchants, a king’s mistress, and those around great artists like Dante and Titian all suffered.

Readers will also read how, without modern scientific equipment, brilliant minds struggled to understand the causes of bubonic plague and how it might be fought, often coming astonishingly close to the truth.

Most of the authors are novelists and thus writing out of their habitual format. Perhaps as a result, several stories seem over-freighted with historical fact, scene-setting, or a multiplicity of characters, which can be cumbersome in a short story. In the best of these entries, we follow a single character’s quest for love, salvation, and survival against the backdrop of an epidemic which shredded the social fabric and destroyed all certainties. Each story is followed by an author statement of the inspiration, background, and historical sources of the narrative.