Cover image for The falls : a novel
Title:
The falls : a novel
Author:
Oates, Joyce Carol, 1938-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Ecco, [2004]

©2004
Physical Description:
xiv, 481 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.3 26.0 82056.
ISBN:
9780060722289

9780060722296
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

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.


Author Notes

Joyce Carol Oates was born on June 16, 1938 in Lockport, New York. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Syracuse University and a master's degree in English from the University of Wisconsin.

She is the author of numerous novels and collections of short stories. Her works include We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, Bellefleur, You Must Remember This, Because It Is Bitter, Because It Is My Heart, Solstice, Marya : A Life, and Give Me Your Heart. She has received numerous awards including the National Book Award for Them, the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literature. She was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with her title Lovely, Dark, Deep. She also wrote a series of suspense novels under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith. In 2015, her novel The Accursed became listed as a bestseller on the iBooks chart.

She worked as a professor of English at the University of Windsor, before becoming the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University. She and her late husband Raymond J. Smith operated a small press and published a literary magazine, The Ontario Review.

(Bowker Author Biography) Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most eminent and prolific literary figures and social critics of our times. She has won the National Book Award and several O. Henry and Pushcart prizes. Among her other awards are an NEA grant, a Guggenheim fellowship, the PEN/Malamud Lifetime Achievement Award, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literature.

(Publisher Provided)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

From Oates' fevered imagination comes a sprawling, ambitious novel with enough material to fill several books. The thoroughly absorbing story line tracks 30 years in the life of the Burnabys as they struggle to juggle the competing demands of family and community. After Ariah Erskine's young husband commits suicide on their honeymoon by throwing himself into the roaring waters of Niagara Falls, she forms an intense relationship with local lawyer Dirk Burnaby, marries him two months later, and eventually bears three children. But their marriage founders when Dirk succumbs to the pleading of a local woman whose family has been sickened by their poisoned neighborhood in Love Canal. Dirk, a longtime member of the patrician ruling class, underestimates the lengths to which his colleagues will go to protect their business interests and pays the ultimate price when he faces down the powers-that-be in court. Twenty years later, his sons will take up his cause and mend their broken family in the process. This passionate, compulsively readable novel displays the full range of Oates' singular obsessions--the destructiveness of secrets; eccentric female characters given to rapacious appetites and volatile emotions; and the mysterious way that human emotion is mirrored in the natural world. Vivid and memorable reading from the madly prolific Oates. --Joanne Wilkinson Copyright 2004 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

The author of more than 30 books, Oates returns to her We Were the Mulvaneys theme of a family torn apart by external events. When Ariah's new husband, Erskine, throws himself into Niagara Falls on the first day of their honeymoon, she endures a seven-day vigil as she awaits the recovery of his body and soon becomes known as the Widow Bride of the Falls. Enter Dirk Burnaby, a local playboy lawyer, who falls in love with Ariah and marries her a month later. Their life goes well, with the birth of two sons and a daughter, but when Dirk takes on what would later be known as the Love Canal lawsuit, his long hours, the rumor of an affair, and the animosity of the community lead to estrangement from his family and then his death. Sixteen years later, we meet Ariah's children, who know nothing of Ariah's past as the Widow Bride; they have known only that the community has ridiculed them inexplicably. Through the discovery of their complicated history, all three children find direction. Oates uses the falls metaphor to powerful effect, dramatizing how our lives can get swept up by forces beyond our control. Highly recommended.-Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

The Falls A Novel 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. Gone. He's gone. Can't be gone. Where? God damn! She was a new, shy bride. So the world perceived her and the world was not mistaken. At the hotel registration desk she'd signed, for the first time, Mrs. Ariah Erskine, and her cheeks had flamed. A virgin, twenty-nine years old. Inexperienced with men as with another species of being. As she lay wracked with pain she didn't dare even to reach out in the enormous bed for fear of touching him. She wouldn't have wanted him to misinterpret her touch. Almost, she had to recall his name. "Gilbert." No one called him "Gil." None of the Erskine relatives she'd met. Possibly friends of his at the seminary in Albany had called him "Gil" but that was a side of him Ariah hadn't yet seen, and couldn't presume to know. It was like discussing religious faith with him: he'd been ordained a Presbyterian minister at a very young age and so faith was his professional domain and not hers. To call such a man by the folksy diminutive "Gil" would be too familiar a gesture for Ariah, his fiancée who'd only just become his wife. In his stiff shy way he'd called her "Ariah, dear." She called him "Gilbert" but had been planning how in a tender moment, as in a romantic Hollywood film, she would begin to call him "darling" -- maybe even "Gil, darling." Unless all that was changed. That possibility. She'd had a glass of champagne at the wedding reception, and another glass -- or two -- of champagne in the hotel room the night before, nothing more and yet she'd never felt so drugged, so ravaged. Her eyelashes were stuck together as if with glue, her mouth tasted of acid. She couldn't bear the thought: she'd been sleeping like this, comatose, mouth open and gaping like a fish's. Had she been snoring? Had Gilbert heard? She tried to hear him in the bathroom. Antiquated plumbing shrieked and rumbled, but not close by ... The Falls A Novel . Copyright © by Joyce Oates. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Falls: A Novel by Joyce Carol Oates All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.