Synopses & Reviews
A stunning, major achievement from Joyce Carol Oates, "one of the great artistic forces of our time" (The Nation
). A haunting story of the powerful spell Niagara Falls casts upon two generations of a family, leading to tragedy, love, loss, and, ultimately, redemption.
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. As in We Were the Mulvaneys, a "darkly engrossing novel" (Washington Post Book World), she examines what happens when the richly interwoven relationships of parents and their children are challenged by circumstances outside the family.
The Falls is a love story gone wrong and righted, and it alone places Joyce Carol Oates definitively in the company of the great American novelists.
"Oates is not only on her authentically rendered home ground in this sprawling novel set in the city of Niagara Falls during the 1950s, she is also writing at the top of her form. Her febrile prose is especially appropriate to a story as turbulent as the tumultuous waters that have claimed many lives over the years. Widowed on her wedding night when her new husband, a young minister and latent homosexual, throws himself into the falls, Ariah Littrell, the plain, awkward daughter of a minister, henceforth considers herself damned. Her bleak future becomes miraculously bright when Dirk Burnaby, a handsome, wealthy bon vivant with an altruistic heart, falls in love with the media-dubbed Widow-Bride. Their rapturous happiness is shadowed only by Ariah's illogical conviction over the years that Dirk will leave her and their three children someday. Her unreasonable fear becomes self-fulfilling when her increasingly unstable behavior, combined with Dirk's obsessed but chaste involvement with Nina Olshaker, a young mother who enlists his help in alerting the city fathers to the pestilential conditions in the area later to be known as Love Canal, opens a chasm in their marriage. His gentle heart inspired by a need for justice, Dirk takes on the powerful, corrupt politicians, his former peers and pals, in a disastrous lawsuit that ruins him socially and financially and results in his death. Oates adroitly addresses the material of this 'first' class action lawsuit and makes the story fresh and immediate. 'In the end, all drama is about family,' a character muses, and while the narrative occasionally lapses into melodrama in elucidating this theme, Oates spins a haunting story in which nature and humans are equally rapacious and self-destructive. Agent, Jane Hawkins. Author tour. (Sept. 16) Forecast: This is likely to be one of Oates's biggest sellers its heft, striking setting and sheer excellence should make it her highest-profile novel since Blonde." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This passionate, compulsively readable novel displays the full range of Oates' singular obsessions....Vivid and memorable reading from the madly prolific Oates." Booklist
"This big, enthralling novel recaptures the gift for Dreiserian realism that distinguishes such Oates triumphs as them, What I Lived For, and We Were the Mulvaneys. It's her best ever and a masterpiece." Kirkus Reviews
"Oates uses the falls metaphor to powerful effect, dramatizing how our lives can get swept up by forces beyond our control. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Powerful, compassionate and ruefully humorous, The Falls is another example of Oates' inexhaustible brilliance." BookPage
"Oates veterans know that the surest way to survive, and even to get some pleasure from, her fictional world is to treat it as an interesting place to visit, where you wouldn't want to live. So read The Falls swiftly and don't look too closely, or too long. Then move on. Oates will." Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review
"For 40 years, [Joyce Carol Oates has] coyly enticed us with the gothic details of ordinary life and then when it's too late pinned us on the sharp point of her wisdom. I read The Falls
, her latest novel, in what seemed like one held breath. Set around Niagara, the story reflects all the romance, mystery, and terror of that spectacular waterfall. It's a great confluence of tones grotesque and domestic, tragic and comic. The currents of various styles and points of view blend together in a way that can't possibly work, but does." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor
(read the entire Christian Science Monitor review
In her new novel, set against the mythic-historic backdrop of Niagara Falls in the mid-20th century, Joyce Carol Oates explores the American family in crisis.
About the Author
Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award; and the New York Times bestseller The Accursed. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.