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BookBrowse Reviews The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

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The Falls

by Joyce Carol Oates

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates X
The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2004, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2005, 512 pages

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Juxtaposes a majestic and dangerous natural phenomenon with a man-made monstrosity. Novel

From the book jacket: Exploring the theme of a family torn about by external events, Oates sets her story around the majestic Niagara Falls and the less than majestic Love Canal area on the eastern edge of Niagara Falls.  

Comment: This is a fairly long book (one reviewer comments it has enough material for two or three books!) but well worth the read. I found the first 100 pages or so good but not gripping, but got totally caught up in the story after that.  All reviewers seem to rate The Falls as one of Oates' best books to date (and considering that she has published around 100 that is quite a claim - see Oates' bio at BookBrowse for a partial bibliography).  For example, the Washington Post describes The Falls as 'hypnotic', Booklist describes it as 'vivid and memorable', and Library Journal rates it 'highly recommended'.

Oates explains the historical background to the novel in a brief Q&A at BookBrowse. In this she confirms that the majority of the information in the novel about Love Canal is historically accurate. The original Love Canal was built by William T Love in the early 1900s with the intention of joining the upper and lower Niagara Rivers, creating an opportunity for hydroelectric power which would fuel the industry and homes that he planned to build along the canal. The project collapsed around 1910, and in 1920 the partially dug ditch was turned into a municipal and industrial chemical dump - and used by a number of local chemical companies to dump a variety of hazardous waste. In 1953 the ditch was covered over with dirt and sold to the city for $1. Soon about 100 houses and a school had been built on the site. Although there were reports of many critical health problems in the intervening years, the time bomb did not fully explode until the late 1970s when a record amount of rain triggered significant leaching from the dump, leading to what Eckardt C. Beck, local administrator of the US Environmental Projection Agency at the time, described as 'one of the most appalling environmental tragedies in American history'. Read his 1979 report.

This review first ran in the August 3, 2005 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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