Monday, November 17, 2008

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is a continuous source of wonder for me. How can she write so much, with such detail, and so well?

This is one of Oates' novels I have been wanting to read since it was first published in 2004. The novel begins with the drama surrounding newlywed Ariah the morning after her honeymoon night in Niagra Falls. We discover Ariah's husband of a few hours has committed suicide by throwing himself over the falls. Dirk Burnaby, a lawyer and wealthy member of the community, remains at Ariah's side during a week-long vigil as Ariah waits for her husband's body to appear. After the vigil, she returns home, but Dirk cannot forget Ariah. In fact, he becomes rather obsessed. Within a short period of time, "the Widow Bride of the Falls" marries Dirk.

The most interesting parts of the novel are those concerned with the early marriage of Dirk and Ariah. As the novel develops, they have three children with distinct personalities. The marriage begins to unravel as Dirk devotes his time and energy to what will later be known as the Love Canal case. The introduction of Love Canal was quite a surprise, but Oates masterfully weaves it in with the storyline.

The last fifth of the novel (it spans 481 pages) became difficult for me to wade through. The lives of Ariah and Dirk's children become center stage here. I did not find their stories as interesting as Ariah's. Still, this is an amazing work that I recommend to all who enjoy complex novels.


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