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The Falls [Hardcover]

Joyce Carol Oates
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Sep 2004

A novel of tremendous sweep and pace about the American family in crisis – but also about America itself in the mid-20th century. This novel is the crowning achievement of Joyce Carol Oates’s career to date.

A man climbs over the railings and plunges into Niagara Falls. He's a newly-wed, and his bride has been left behind in the honeymoon suite the morning after their wedding. For two weeks, Ariah, the deserted bride, waits by the side of the roaring waterfall for news of her husband's recovered body. During her vigil, an unlikely new love story begins to unfold when she meets a wealthy lawyer who is transfixed by her strange, otherworldly gaze. So it all begins, in the 1950s, with the dark foreboding of the Falls the sinister background to events.

From this cataclysmic event unfurls 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 materials, they must confront not only their personal history but America’s murky past: the despoiling of the American landscape and the corruption and greed of the massive industrial expansion of the 1950s and 1960s.

This novel of tremendous sweep and pace is about the American family in crisis – but also about America itself in the mid-20th century. This book alone places Joyce Carol Oates definitively in the company of the Great American Novelists.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (6 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007185146
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007185146
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,844,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including 'We Were the Mulvaneys', which was an Oprah Book Club Choice, and 'Blonde', which was nominated for the National Book Award. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University.

Product Description

Review

'Eminently readable and though full of heart is utterly heartbreaking.' Vogue

'Oates offers a shrewd, often chilling analysis of an unhappy marriage…[she] deftly widens her focus to…Niagara, corrupt and dangerously polluted.' Sunday Times

'If you only read one new novel this autumn, make it this… you'll be hooked within pages' Mail on Sunday

'…engaging…compelling…a flair for the minutiae of character…' Guardian

'The Falls is a swirling cataract of invention, and a mesmerising read.' Daily Telegraph

‘One of the female frontrunners for the title of Great American Novelist.' Sunday Times

'A writer of extraordinary strengths…she has dealt consistently with what is probably the great American theme – the quest for the creation of self…Her great subject, naturally, is love.' Guardian

'Apart from her, only Don Delillo, among today's American novelists, and no one at all among today's American women novelists, would be able to handle such a huge cast of imagined and real characters.' Literary Review

'Novelists such as John Updike, Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer slug it out for the title of the Great American Novelist. But maybe they're wrong. Maybe, just maybe, the Great American Novelist is a woman.' The Herald

About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a novelist, critic, playwright, poet and author of short stories and is one of America’s most highly respected literary figures. She currently holds the post of Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University. Her most recent novel, ‘The Gravedigger’s Daughter’, was published in 2007.


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First Sentence
At the time unknown, unnamed, the individual who was to throw himself into the Horseshoe Falls appeared to the gatekeeper of the Goat Island Suspension Bridge at approximately 6:15 A.M. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buried Secrets and Individual Responsibility 15 Sep 2004
Format:Hardcover
At the beginning of this novel we are introduced to Ariah Erskine who is an intensely creative and complex individual. She is nonetheless very naive and is led into a marriage because she thinks it will enhance her own self worth. When the marriage ends abruptly during the couple's honeymoon to Niagara Falls in the first few pages of this novel she suddenly becomes a hapless victim and she believes herself to be damned. In actuality the reason for her husband's death has nothing to do with her personally, yet the guilt is still affixed to her and she feels that she has failed him. The shadow of that naive personality is turned into a local legend known as "The Widow Bride of the Falls". But the spirited individual remains and she is in a sense brought back to life by a charismatic, well-known member of the community called Dirk Burnaby. The two decide to forge a life for themselves despite Ariah's humble background and Dirk's influential, wealthy family. Although they are successful at first, submerged problems well up causing difficulties. When Dirk becomes involved with an enormously contentious community problem, it threatens the safety of their beloved family and extremely difficult choices need to be made. A powerful question arises: Where does personal sacrifice end in the pursuit of justice?
Oates used the historical Love Canal incident as a reference point in this novel. If you aren't already familiar with the case, it's useful to know that the Love Canal was a neighborhood near the city of Niagara Falls that was built upon a severely polluted landfill. The families who lived in this community suffered terribly for almost three decades because they were lied to from officials, could not afford to move away and had their cases dismissed by the justice system.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the falls 11 Dec 2006
Format:Paperback
Joyce Carol Oates's legions of fans will love this. It's a saga with all Oates's characteristically strong writing and huge ambitions. The scope is, as ever, huge - the story follows a woman, Ariah, from her doomed first wedding, right through the family she subsequently goes on to have. But this is not just a family epic - there are also themes of morality and capitalism and the fight of one individual - Ariah's second husband, the gorgeous, altruistic lawyer - to attain justice for the victims of a man-made disaster.

As a shocking insight into the immorality of big business and the local government corruption and collusion that big bucks are able to buy, this novel works. The blind eye turned by the authorities to the sickening effects of dumping of toxic waste are vividly evoked, and the campaigning young lawyer who fights for justice is everything a hero should be - not only handsome but also morally decent, honest and bravely outspoken.

My problem with the book was with Ariah. Despite her dire circumstances at the beginning of the book - bereaved on her first day of wedded life by a closet gay new husband - I never warmed to her, partly because I didn't feel that she had any likeable attributes. In fact, for me, she remained two dimensional, inadequately described, and unreal. My disbelief that the dashing, intelligent, wealthy lawyer would fall for her was difficult to suspend - sure, men like mystery, but she had no redeeming features apart from her tragic mystique, seeming unattractive, closed and cold, and I was sceptical throughout that she could incite such passion.

But then perhaps Ariah is meant to be closed and mysterious, cool and unfathomable.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buried Secrets and Individual Responsibility 22 Sep 2004
Format:Hardcover
At the beginning of this novel we are introduced to Ariah Erskine who is an intensely creative and complex individual. She is nonetheless very naive and is led into a marriage because she thinks it will enhance her own self worth. When the marriage ends abruptly during the couple's honeymoon to Niagara Falls in the first few pages of this novel she suddenly becomes a hapless victim and she believes herself to be damned. In actuality the reason for her husband's death has nothing to do with her personally, yet the guilt is still affixed to her and she feels that she has failed him. The shadow of that naive personality is turned into a local legend known as "The Widow Bride of the Falls". But the spirited individual remains and she is in a sense brought back to life by a charismatic, well-known member of the community called Dirk Burnaby. The two decide to forge a life for themselves despite Ariah's humble background and Dirk's influential, wealthy family. Although they are successful at first, submerged problems well up causing difficulties. When Dirk becomes involved with an enormously contentious community problem, it threatens the safety of their beloved family and extremely difficult choices need to be made. A powerful question arises: Where does personal sacrifice end in the pursuit of justice?
Oates used the historical Love Canal incident as a reference point in this novel. If you aren't already familiar with the case, it's useful to know that the Love Canal was a neighborhood near the city of Niagara Falls that was built upon a severely polluted landfill. The families who lived in this community suffered terribly for almost three decades because they were lied to from officials, could not afford to move away and had their cases dismissed by the justice system.
Read more ›
Comment | 
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Starts off well but.......
Starts off well but the lost momentum though it picked up again towards the end........do not think I would want to read it again.
Published 9 months ago by Margaret Malvern
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful and unexpected
'The Falls' is a little hard to get into and quite close to the beginning, something happens in the plot and you wonder quite where the story can possibly go... Read more
Published 10 months ago by CB
2.0 out of 5 stars NOT AS GOOD AS I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE
I FOUND THIS BOOK QUITE HARD TO GET INTO AND DID NOT REALLY LIKE IT WHEREAS MY FRIEND THOUGHT IT WAS REALLY GOOD, JUST SHOWS HOW WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT
Published 15 months ago by Carol Norton
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read
A really good novel where you don't know what is going to happen. A lot of tragedy, social responsibility and complex relationships.
Published 19 months ago by MJ
4.0 out of 5 stars Comments about Joyce Carol Oates
After reading Oates' novel, 'The Falls', I was driven to read more of her work, and I have just read 'I'll Take You There' also. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Bob J
4.0 out of 5 stars Falling in Love
Niagara Falls attracts tourists every year to its famous, awe-inspiring waterfalls. Some of them, like the newly-weds Ariah and Gilbert, go there on their honeymoon and hope that... Read more
Published on 9 Sep 2008 by Oliver Redfern
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Mainstream Novel - But Nothing Original
I struggled with how to review this novel. On the one hand I thoroughly enjoyed it - although it took a while to draw me in - but on the other hand I felt like I'd read this kind... Read more
Published on 22 Aug 2007 by A. G. Young
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