The Falls

In searching for books on CD at our library, I came across The Falls. I’ve wanted to read something by Joyce Carol Oates for years, so I reserved a copy without knowing anything about it. A few days later I went to Barnes and Noble’s website and read the publisher’s blurb. My first thought: this sounds way too melodramatic for my taste. The audio book was already on its way to my library branch, though, so I decided to go ahead and get it, listen to the first disc, and if I didn’t like it, take it back.

Listening to the first few minutes, I thought if the plot didn’t turn me off then the narrator would. Anna Field’s voice seemed too dry, too matter-of-fact. But, I was determined to make it to the end of disc one (there were fifteen in all). I am so glad I did. Oates writing was beautiful. And her metaphors so apt, I couldn’t imagine anyone thinking of anything better (though, I must say she should have used “blood sausage” only the first, very apropos time). I became completely submerged in the world of Ariah, the “Widow Bride of The Falls,” and was sad when the story ended.

Anna Field’s voice grew on me, too. Her straightforward, sometimes sarcastically deadpan, tone kept the story from sounding overly sentimental, which I appreciated.

My one major criticism: I wish the ending had been messier. It was too tidy for me.

I’d love to read more by Oates, though. Especially We Were the Mulvaneys and Middle Age: A Romance. Unfortunately, our library system doesn’t carry either on audio CD, so they’ll have to wait till I have more time to read a book with actual pages.

A man climbs over the railings and plunges into Niagara Falls. A newlywed, he has left behind his wife, Ariah Erskine, in the honeymoon suite the morning after their wedding. “The Widow Bride of The Falls,” as Ariah comes to be known, begins a relentless, seven-day vigil in the mist, waiting for his body to be found. At her side throughout, confirmed bachelor and pillar of the community Dirk Burnaby is unexpectedly transfixed by the strange, otherworldly gaze of this plain, strange woman, falling in love with her though they barely exchange a word. What follows is their passionate love affair, marriage, and children – a seemingly perfect existence. But the tragedy by which their life together began shadows them, damaging their idyll with distrust, greed, and even murder. What unfurls is a drama of parents and their children; of secrets and sins; of lawsuits, murder, and, eventually, redemption. As Ariah’s children learn that their past is enmeshed with a hushed-up scandal involving radioactive waste, they must confront not only their personal history but America’s murky past: the despoiling of the landscape, and the corruption and greed of the massive industrial expansion of the 1950s and 1960s. Set against the mythic-historic backdrop of Niagara Falls, Joyce Carol Oates explores the American family in crisis, but also America itself in the mid-twentieth century.

Links of interest:

Review by Ron Charles
Washington Post interview

Middle-aged woman rating (out of five stars): ****


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