Fall Love tells the intertwined stories of four twenties-something artists and professionals adrift in the bad old pre-AIDS New York of 1980. From a summer of love through an autumn of deceit and regret, we follow the lives of Althea, Jeanne, Paul, and Bryce from self-sacrifice to self-knowledge. We watch them as they travel in and out of the city, to Block Island, Connecticut, Mississippi, and Florida. Within the city, we are taken through public schools in Harlem and the far-flung reaches of the Bronx and Brooklyn. We learn about modern dance and theater companies in downtown Manhattan, and experience the contrasts of a life in a penthouse and a studio apartment.
On vacation on an island in the summer sea, Althea lived the life she aspired to: she devoted herself to painting. All year long in New York City she had scrimped and saved to give herself three weeks of solitary inspiration on Block Island. Renting a house sight unseen over the phone, she had come with empty canvases, paints, brushes, palette knives, and hope; and what she found exceeded her fondest imaginings: Althea believed herself to be in Paradise.
Happiness suffused her like light. She, who considered herself a connoisseur of sights, had fallen in love at once with her island retreat. Low and modest, blue and gray, the house sat on a sloping hillside overlooking fields of bayberries and the sea. She marvelled at how it suited her, as if it had been made for her.
She wondered about the owner. She guessed he had built the house himself, because it was simple, yet with charming, individual touches. She saw signs of his taste and evidence of his handiwork in the odd angles of his rooms, the iron latches that fastened the windows and closed the closets, in the sunny windbreak behind the house which made a perfect breakfast nook, and on the deck outside the bedroom's double door that looked out to the sea. From the real estate agent she had learned that he was elderly and of foreign birth. Eating from his plates, eyes lifted to a view, she speculated as to whether need of money or ill health caused him to rent his retreat. She blessed her good fortune. It was almost as if the house had found her, rather than the other way around.
The August days passed, long, languorous, and utterly free. Watching a spider's web in sunlight, Althea imagined that she was like that, alternately shining and hidden, waiting in speculation. What would stumble in? Every day at dusk she stripped for the sea and ran over sand and flat stones into water as smooth as pale isinglass. Thigh-deep she paused, shivering. Then she surface-dived, and the cool water covered her head. She fluttered to the sea floor like a wind and played her fingers over the soft ridges the waves had made.
She began her paintings, a suite of four which she worked on in succession. They were scenes abstracted from nature: a forest, a meadow, a pond, the sea. So much she knew, the rest she set out to discover. The mud was rinsed from her colors. Each stroke had its place: a center and an edge that met the others. On the flat canvas, she wanted to suggest an inexhaustible depth. "See what drew you in," she told herself as both an admonishment and a rapture, as a jolt to the memory of what had made her turn so long ago to art.
Part by painstaking part, her paintings grew. Very quickly, she poured her mind in a thin layer over the surface and instantly sucked it back, a flash of consideration to balance the obsessive priorities of the brush. It was a way of ferreting out a wrong choice against the harmony she invoked, hard and clear as glass though rendered in the compliance of pigment.
Althea's sense of how she benefitted from painting differed from the opinions of "the outside world." Still, she flinched when she was faced with questions about her earnings from art, for she was ambitious and proud. Though she would have liked it to be otherwise, art was presently her luxury, and teaching art was her livelihood. The time she had off from the latter she felt obliged to give to the former. How wonderful it would be if this house were really hers! But when her tenancy was over, she'd have no money left.
In the meantime Althea relaxed, and her moods were submerged in the island's changeable weathers and her adaptable routines. She worked in the morning, ate at noon, swam at dusk; and many afternoons she whiled away in daydreams, letting the sun tan her, or the fog wrap her in white moisture.
Against the hazy sky, she watched the consecutive flights of swallows constantly defining new spaces in the air that she seemed to possess and then instantly lost. She thought that if, in her paintings, she could manage to evoke the impermanence around her, then she would reclaim it forever.
The waning summer deepened its promise. Each day seemed eternal even as it ended. She conceived of her paintings in isolation, and, while she was contented, she nevertheless began to feel lonely. In New York City she treasured her friendships, and some days she seemed rich; she was blessed by chance encounters, and their comprehending interest wove her to a wider world. Other days she was bereft; she dialed and heard the phone ring uselessly or a rare tape machine click on where she was obliged to record a message. People were always leaving and arriving, and often she missed them. But she, too, was a restless city woman, and the proof was her present removal to an island of farms made over for remote summers.