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.
"No. Please, God. Not this."
The hurt. The humiliation. The unspeakable shame. Not grief, not yet. The shock was too immediate for grief. When she discovered the enigmatic note her husband had left for her propped against a mirror in the bedroom of their honeymoon suite at the Rainbow Grand Hotel, Niagara Falls, New York, Ariah had been married twenty-one hours. When, in the early afternoon of that day, she learned from Niagara Falls police that a man resembling her husband, Gilbert Erskine, had thrown himself into the Horseshoe Falls early that morning and had been swept away -- "vanished, so far without a trace" -- beyond the Devil's Hole Rapids, as the scenic attraction downriver from The Falls was named, she'd been married not quite twenty-eight hours.
These were the stark, cruel facts.
"I'm a bride who has become a widow in less than a day."
Ariah spoke aloud, in a voice of wonder. She was the daughter of a much-revered Presbyterian ...
A number of reviewers compare Oates to Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945), an American author whose novels depict real-life subjects in a harsh light and, at the time they were written, were often considered to be amoral.
If you liked The Falls, try these:
Bridge of Sighs courses with small-town rhythms and the claims of family. Here is a town, as well as a world, defined by magnificent and nearly devastating contradictions.
From a fiercely funny Danish John Irving, a bighearted, epic story of mad dogs, naughty boys, strange relatives, and family secrets.
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The Angel of Losses
"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist
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