Excerpt from The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Falls

by Joyce Carol Oates

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates X
The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2004, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2005, 512 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

The Bride

"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 minister, surely that should have counted for something with God, as it did with secular authorities?

Ariah struck suddenly at her face with both fists. She wanted to pummel, blacken her eyes that had seen too much.

"God, help me! You wouldn't be so cruel -- would you?"

Yes. I would. Foolish woman of course I would. Who are you, to be spared My justice?


How swift the reply came! A taunt that echoed so distinctly in Ariah's skull, she halfway believed these pitying strangers could hear it.

But here was solace: until Gilbert Erskine's body was found in the river and identified, his death was theoretical and not official. Ariah wasn't yet a widow, but still a bride.


... Waking that morning to the rude and incontrovertible fact that she who'd slept alone all her life was yet alone again on the morning following her wedding day. Waking alone though she was no longer Miss Ariah Juliet Littrell but Mrs. Gilbert Erskine. Though no longer the spinster daughter of Reverend and Mrs. Thaddeus Littrell of Troy, New York, piano and voice instructor at the Troy Academy of Music, but the bride of Reverend Gilbert Erskine, recently named minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Palymra, New York.

Waking alone and in that instant she knew. Yet she could not believe, her pride was too great. Not allowing herself to think I am alone. Am I?

A clamor of wedding bells had followed her here. Hundreds of miles. Her head was ringed in pain as if in a vise. Her bowels were sick as if the very intestines were corroded and rotting. In this unfamiliar bed smelling of damp linen, damp flesh and desperation. Where, where was she, what was the name of the hotel he'd brought her to, a paradise for honeymooners, and Niagara Falls was the Honeymoon Capital of the World, a pulse in her head beat so violently she couldn't think. Having been married so briefly she knew little of husbands yet it seemed to her plausible (Ariah was telling herself this as a frightened child might tell herself a story to ward off harm) that Gilbert had only just slipped quietly from the bed and was in the bathroom. She lay very still listening for sounds of faucets, a bath running, a toilet flushing, hoping to hear even as her sensitive nerves resisted hearing. The awkwardness, embarrassment, shame of such intimacy was new to her, like the intimacy of marriage. The "marital bed." Nowhere to hide. His pungent Vitalis hair-oil, and her coyly sweet Lily of the Valley cologne in collision. Just Ariah and Gilbert whom no one called Gil alone together breathless and smiling hard and determined to be cheerful, pleasant, polite with each other as they'd always been before the wedding had joined them in holy matrimony except Ariah had to know something was wrong, she'd been jolted from her hot stuporous sleep to this knowledge.

From The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Your Duck Is My Duck
    Your Duck Is My Duck
    by Deborah Eisenberg
    In this collection of six short stories, Deborah Eisenberg presents characters confronting limits ...
  • Book Jacket: Unsheltered
    Unsheltered
    by Barbara Kingsolver
    Willa Knox's house is falling down. She recently inherited a Victorian residence in Vineland, ...
  • Book Jacket: Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
    Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
    by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
    Ya Ta, the main character in Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's novel, Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, ...
  • Book Jacket: The Boneless Mercies
    The Boneless Mercies
    by April Genevieve Tucholke
    The Mercies are assassins, part of a long tradition of killers who serve to end the suffering of the...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Code Girls
by Liza Mundy

The riveting story of the USA's courageous and accomplished WWII female American code breakers.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Gone So Long
    by Andre Dubus III

    Dubus' first novel in a decade is a masterpiece of thrilling tension and heartrending empathy.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Gone So Long

Andre Dubus III's First Novel in a Decade

A masterpiece of thrilling tension and heartrending empathy.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

G H E Rope A H Will H H

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.