Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
There is an almost frantic pace to the narration of the events that fill the 495 pages of The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson by Patrice Johnson … and that pace is a perfect fit for what the principal character in this biography, Tyler Johnson, and his beloved Yuki would have felt as fugitives for a gruelling six years. Following a night of celebratory binge drinking (Tyler’s first big mistake), Tyler and a friend, Danny, managed to set off a fire in an SUV car yard. What was essentially stupid vandalism that got out of hand was branded as a terrorist act, and a frantic Tyler had to choose between probable lengthy incarceration or flight. He chose the latter, perhaps mistake number two, and in doing so ended all hope of a promising and successful career while working on his doctorate in quantum physics and artificial intelligence.
Tyler and Yuki escape to Corsica, just barely surviving there for six years. Together, they learn to live off the land, scrounging for jobs and finding few, starving a good deal of the time but every so often finding a bit of human kindness extended to them by some most unlikely people e.g. a Parisian madam and a French lawyer, who takes Tyler’s case pro bono. Just when they think things might be looking up, Tyler dies in an avalanche and Yuki flees, never to be found again. Such a tragic ending to what should have been a wonderful and fulfilling life for them both.
How does Patrice Johnson know so much about what Tyler and Yuki experienced and felt over those six years? Patrice is Tyler’s mother and after his death gained access to his journals. Her narration is a combination of her own words and Tyler’s, and in all honesty, this occasionally is rather confusing for the reader as the voice switches from third person to first person and back again without warning. Also, she has included much of Tyler’s very deep thinking and observations on life and humanity. So readers need to be prepared for some reflective “time outs” in a plot that otherwise moves swiftly as Tyler and Yuki, always looking over their shoulders, run from one hiding place to another for fear of being found by police and authorities.
The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson is a vindication of a beloved son and his actions by a loving mother and his family. While one might criticize the actions this young man took that landed him and his girlfriend in such a hell, as Patrice shows in her ending, Tyler did rise again before his untimely death. You will need to read the book to find out how. But as you do, you will find yourself sympathizing with and not criticizing Tyler: his story is proof of that now well-worn quote by John Lennon: “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”