Friday, June 12, 2009

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

I've been meaning to rhapsodize about my latest read for several days, but I've been too exhausted to do it. That's another story, though.

Joyce Carol Oates expertly takes cultural icons and important events and builds novels around them that seem vividly real--as they could very well be.

The Falls is actually several stories all wrapped into one novel. First, we meet Ariah Erksine, a newlywed whose husband commits suicide the morning after their wedding night by getting up early, racing to the falls, and plunging in. This is the strange event that gets the novel going. JCO is very good at this; many of her novels begin with events that are very strange and very tragic, but they are always believable when they roll off her pen.

The second strange event is that Dirk Burnaby, a lawyer friend of the local entrepreneur who happens to own the hotel at which Ariah is staying, and a rich, highly eligible bachelor, falls in love with Ariah while she keeps her eccentric, week-long vigil by the falls, until rescue crews find her husband's corpse. She becomes known as The Widow Bride of the Falls, and winds up marrying Burnaby a short time later, a man she barely knows. He's persuasive.

The two of them have a very passionate relationship and three children, before Dirk Burnaby becomes engrossed in the first Love Canal Case--this is 1962. Here, JCO provides a short history of the Love Canal tragedy that is both succinct and riveting, though she does change the names. I've googled enough to know that the basic facts are correct. This case was never resolved until 1978, and Burnably did not live to see it. On the contrary, his life was ruined because he took this case.

The latter part of the book follows his children, their relationship with their strange, damaged mother, and how each of them play a part in discovering a part of their father's past, despite their mother's determined silence. This is a family history that takes place in the wake of the famous Niagara Falls, and I found it quite poignant.

I became quite involved with this novel, and liked most of the principal characters. Though long, at 481 pages, it went by rather quickly, and I would gladly recommend it to most people.

9 comments:

Doug said...

I've been meaning to read one of her novels. Do you have a favorite?

TLP said...

Ditto for me Doug. I've never read her. Start me up Acton.

Jocelyn said...

I'm going to count myself as one of "most people," then, and give it a try.

I'm reading AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST by Iain Pears and am finding myself easily drawn in and looking forward to the big bulk of pages!

Tom & Icy said...

You wrote a very good review.

Nessa said...

I've been meaning to read her also.

actonbell said...

Mom, Doug, and Nessa: I would recommend a novel called Them, which came out around 1970. I do have a ratty copy, Mom:)

Jocelyn, I've heard good things about that book, and someday...

Thank you, Tom!

Doug said...

Cool, thanks.

Scarlet W. Blue said...

AB, do you participate at the Goodreads site? I loved your review, BTW.

I've found that I tend to like JCO's short stories best of all her works. My students always love "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" in particular.

G said...

I found myself in the library looking at "Rape, a Love Story" by Joyce Carol Oates feeling a bit unsure with such a title. But it was her only book on the shelf and I wanted to read something so I chose it. I'm glad that I did. I very much enjoyed her writing style and will keep an eye open for this title as well.

Have a great summer!