three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-FallsA suicide at "Suicide’s Paradise," the honeymoon capital of Niagara Falls, opens Oates’s latest novel. In the 1950s, Ariah Erskine must deal with the suicide of her husband—a latently gay minister—on their wedding night. The repercussions of his act reverberate for decades. Although Ariah falls in love again—this time, with Dick Burnaby, a prominent attorney—she’s haunted by her past. Her fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy as Burnaby takes on the toxic waste problems at Love Canal and ruins himself financially and emotionally. The Falls, a psychologically-complex family saga, deals with two generations of distrust, secrets, tragedy, and ultimate redemption.
Ecco. 496 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0060722282

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The story is part ghost tale, part love story, part history. That the prolific Oates manages to do so much in one book is a testament to her ambition as a writer: she’s not afraid to take it on." Debra Bruno

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Oates sustains the heightened lyricism and the semi-mystical tone of the opening chapter for almost 500 pages in a frenzied, shaman-like attempt to hypnotize and seduce the reader—just as the fictive citizens in the novel fall under the spell of Niagara Falls’ roaring water. …[The Falls is] surely one of Oates’ best works, a ‘magical conjunction’ of all her literary experimentation.’" Charlotte Innes

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In her hypnotic new novel, The Falls, Oates juxtaposes a majestic and dangerous natural phenomenon—the Falls at Niagara—with a man-made monstrosity, the deadly witches’ brew of nuclear and toxic waste known as Love Canal—as the threatening elements underlying a family saga of self-destruction and redemption. … [Oates is a] bountiful, endlessly curious and increasingly masterful writer." Jane Ciabattari

Miami Herald 3 of 5 Stars
"Some readers will find the exaggerated froth of reaction from characters and situations as anachronistic as a 1930s melodrama. Other times, however, their thoughts are so incisive, accumulative and psychologically fit, we sense Sigmund Freud in a corner, tapping ash off a real cigar." Lois Wolfe

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"The writing style is wildly uneven: For every well-seasoned phrase … there’s a sloppy serving of linguistic junk-food. … Oates has never—to employ an irresistible metaphor—been afraid of going ‘over the top,’ and The Falls takes its readers on a wild ride." Diana Poslethwaite

Denver Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[W]hile Oates’ new novel, like so many of hers, is provocative and insightful about American truths and falsehoods, it is also overwritten and maddeningly digressive, rarely staying on course or even seeming interested in doing so. … It is worth reading but perhaps not as worthwhile as others, like Them, Blonde or I’ll take You There." David Milofsky

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"There’s nothing coy about the fiction of Joyce Carol Oates: she just keeps coming at you with that breathless voice, book after book after book, daring the reader to find her ridiculous, embarrassing, annoyingly insistent. And frequently I do." Terrence Rafferty

Critical Summary

The Falls reads like a 19th-century epic, with echoes of the gothic. Some critics saw this approach as melodramatic; others called it sublime. Both celebrated and criticized for her prolific output (she has more than 50 books to her name), Oates is well known for probing the psychological depths of her characters, as she did in We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde. This novel is no exception. Despite general praise (after all, most of Oates’s works are small masterpieces), the consensus is it’s not her most powerful novel. While the plot may grip some readers, the book will likely appeal to those who enjoy depth of character development, interesting (if, at times, overdone) prose, and a brave, brave ending.

Also by the Author

In our Book by Book Profile of Joyce Carol Oates in our May/June 2003 issue, Jessica Teisch wrote: "Where to Start: A daunting task, as Oates has been prolific across numerous genres and media. Oates is a master of the short story, and Where are You Going, Where Have You Been? is a collection of some of her best work. For classic Oates, turn to Them. For Oates with a dash of hope, try We Were the Mulvaneys."