The Falls was the selection for Literature by Women in August. I’d never read a Joyce Carol Oates novel (even though I’ve acquired a few at library sales) so I went into the month with an open mind. I also started a week behind because I was at Conclave the first week of August.
The Falls is a very meandering novel and I’m still not sure what exactly is the central narrative plot. Is it Ariah’s life and experiences near Niagara Falls? Is it the area of the Falls themselves? Can a novel be setting-driven as opposed to character- or plot-driven? I’m not quite sure because the focus of the novel moves from Ariah as the “Widow Bride of the Falls” (after her new husband jumps to his death the morning after their wedding) to the fate of Ariah’s second family during the Love Canal crisis. There are many links to the treacherous and seductive Niagara Falls throughout the narrative.
Oates contributes further to the meandering quality by changing narrative points-of-view and even the narrator. There’s an “I” that appears every once in a while and it takes a bit to figure out which character is the “I” (sometimes it seems like a different character, too). The description is exquisite at times, particularly in the first chapter in describing the Falls on the morning of Gilbert’s suicide.
The characters themselves are irritating at times, particularly Ariah in her ostrich-like way of ignoring the outside world. Juliet is bothersome to be in that she’s burdened with one of the most famous literary names in history (and very nearly shares her fate). The research into Love Canal is extensive and while I don’t think all the information is necessary for the reader to believe in the rights of the plaintiffs (it’s pretty obvious that the big shots were completely at fault and completely without morals) it does seem necessary for the characters to have everything spelled out for them in order for them to believe in the validity of the case.
I am glad that The Falls was put forward for Literature by Women and that I was finally able to read some JCO. I just wish I had been prepared for the meandering quality of the novel. Although, I should have guessed from the length of the book that is wasn’t going to be too terribly compact as far as plot.
*FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy of this from BNBC.