The Falls Paperback – 4 Jul 2005
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'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
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.
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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. Only in 1978 were they able to receive some compensation for their suffering. By this point, many of the victims were dead or had contracted severely debilitating medical conditions. Oates' fictional character Dick Burnaby becomes heavily involved in the controversy surrounding this case. Rather than giving us a full picture of the victims, Oates shows us someone outside the event who has a choice to make a real difference in helping to change it. He is even someone who could be said to have been implicated in the continuation of this disaster through his business associations. With tremendous power and stamina, the author writes in this novel about the ways in which a sense of social responsibility can at times supersede the loyalty one feels to his or her own family, friends and colleagues. Oates wrote a similarly themed novel called Do With Me What You Will which has now been sadly forgotten and I would suggest that anyone who enjoys this novel try to obtain a copy of it. She is able to write with razor sharpness about the complex way our lives become entangled with events we may feel morally ambivalent toward. For all the dark aspects of life that this powerful novel portrays, the will of the individual is shown to dynamically stand in opposition to the inhuman acts of society. The greatest thing this tremendous writer has been able to do throughout her prestigious body of work is give voice to disparate people who have been rendered voiceless. As Oates said in her 1970 National Book Award Acceptance speech "The use of language is all we have to pit against death and silence." This novel speaks far further than the characters and events it contains.
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. Oates has said in interviews that Ariah is her favourite among her fictional characters, and there is something of Ariah's aloofness and quiet dignity about the private but incredibly prolific Oates.
For my tastes, Oates's writing can become a little grating, her prose always carrying her signature brittle style. Humour is thin on the ground and sometimes the prose can feel heavy, self important and ponderous. But the story is gripping and Oates's fans will remain engrossed.
I find Oates a very intriguing writer, in some ways rather unnerving, seeming as she does to enter the subterranean parts of the mind. I thought at first she was very humourless, but in fact she does have flashes of humour.
I think she is rather short on description of surroundings, and I miss this. I like her humanity, and think I would sympathise with her political views.
I would be interested in the views of other readers.
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