Monday, September 25

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

Review by Claire McManus
My book club's book for the month of August was The Falls, by Joyce Carol Oates.  While we discuss predominantly mysteries, we thought this book would have enough mystery elements to warrant discussion.   
First off, we discussed how ubiquitous Joyce Carol Oates is, and how all of us had managed to read her at one time or another over the past twenty years.  Interestingly, it seemed that no two of us had read the same book, probably because of Oates' legendary ability to produce multiple volumes in one year.
The story revolves around Ariah Littrell, a woman who is jilted on her honeymoon when her new husband kills himself at Niagara Falls.   Soon christened "The Widow Bride of the Falls," she finds herself getting remarried rather quickly.  We watch as her marriage dissolves and as she raises her three children in a sort of genteel poverty.
There are indeed some mystery elements—we wonder why Ariah's first husband commits suicide (and we do find out), and we never know for sure if Ariah's younger son Royall uses a gun to exact a sort of revenge on a person who has wronged his family.   But the strongest mystery in the book is Ariah herself, a high-strung, intelligent, "difficult" woman.  Interestingly, we were divided on the character's likability and believability.   The men in the group didn't like her, found her difficult and cruel, while the women had more sympathy for her while seriously questioning her mothering skills.   One woman in the group who had read We Were the Mulvaneys for Oprah's book club said this felt like a sequel.
We agreed, though, that the very best part of the book has to do with the Love Canal suit.  A large part of the story takes place in a time when Ariah's lawyers husband takes on the case of Nina Olshaker, one of the first people to bring suit against the city for poisioning the land that came to be known as " Love Canal."  Oates writes with great power about the poor and working class people who have been done horribly wrong by wealthy businessmen and powerful magnates.   It is worth reading this book if only to learn more about Love Canal.
Overall I would say we enjoyed this book but I think we were disappointed that we didn't choose one of Oates' "Rosamund Smith" or "Lauren Kelly" books, which are more specifically mystery/suspense books.   I have since read "Double Delight," written under the Smith pseudonym, and I enjoyed it greatly…very creepy suspense.


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