The more I think about it, the more I dislike this book. There's a scene in which Frances and Lily go to a movie theatre and Leo Taylor, the man whom Frances eventually "rapes" follows them. He recognizes Lily as similar to Kathleen, but the similarity is actually innerving. This is, of course, a reference to Freud's theory of the uncanny. MacDonald painfully points this out by having the narrative declare that resemblance is uncanny. She uses those very words. It's painful.
The movie they went to see is a real movie called "The Diary of a Lost Girl" - get it? Yes, MacDonald, I fucking get it. I understand that you are clever and you assembled a work of clever associations and connotations based off the graduate courses you took about the Gothic novel and critical theory.
One of the major elements of the Gothic novel features doubles, or the Other. We spent forty minutes in class discussing all the doubles-possibilities in the novel and this just reaffirmed in my mind that there are way too many characters in Fall on Your Knees. If everybody can be linked to everybody, does it still have meaning?
The professor said that the middle section, which I derided as painfully tedious, is an example of the psychoanalytic therapy and the concept of the repetition compulsion. The characters go over the same ground over and over, but they don't remember perfectly, or they tell themselves half-truths, which makes the final act of catharsis so meaningful because they worked so hard to get at it. Now, this is all very find and good, but I think the professor is rationalizing an extra 150 pages of repetition. Unfortunately, a novel is not an account of therapy. Even if it were, it would be fictionalized and streamlined and turned into a proper story. Therapy is not a story. The professor is essentially apologizing for the author's self-indulgence.
The basement and the attic are important symbols in the novel. The house itself is important. Oh ho! I wonder what they mean! Of course, in the semiotics of Fall on Your Knees, the basements means exactly what you think it means, which is to say that the semiotics of this novel is simple and drawn from every a ton of books that MacDonald clearly read in graduate school.
A clever bit is the death of Trixie, the cat. The cat finds its way into the baptismal gown (an important symbol!) and then gets stuck in the cedar chest (an important symbol!) and is considered missing for weeks, that is until somebody finds the rotting corpse and buries it (an important symbol!). The cleverness here is that Trixie is implicitly compared to the other characters who have died or who have worn the baptismal gown. What's clever about it is that despite the obviousness of the setting (the gown! the chest! the fucking attic!) the symbol of the dead cat is left alone by MacDonald's constant authorial prodding. She doesn't explain the symbol; she lets it lie there on the page and waits for the reader to figure it out. Which is nice. For once.