Review by Booklist Review
From Oates' fevered imagination comes a sprawling, ambitious novel with enough material to fill several books. The thoroughly absorbing story line tracks 30 years in the life of the Burnabys as they struggle to juggle the competing demands of family and community. After Ariah Erskine's young husband commits suicide on their honeymoon by throwing himself into the roaring waters of Niagara Falls, she forms an intense relationship with local lawyer Dirk Burnaby, marries him two months later, and eventually bears three children. But their marriage founders when Dirk succumbs to the pleading of a local woman whose family has been sickened by their poisoned neighborhood in Love Canal. Dirk, a longtime member of the patrician ruling class, underestimates the lengths to which his colleagues will go to protect their business interests and pays the ultimate price when he faces down the powers-that-be in court. Twenty years later, his sons will take up his cause and mend their broken family in the process. This passionate, compulsively readable novel displays the full range of Oates' singular obsessions--the destructiveness of secrets; eccentric female characters given to rapacious appetites and volatile emotions; and the mysterious way that human emotion is mirrored in the natural world. Vivid and memorable reading from the madly prolific Oates. --Joanne Wilkinson Copyright 2004 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Oates is not only on her authentically rendered home ground in this sprawling novel set in the city of Niagara Falls during the 1950s, she is also writing at the top of her form. Her febrile prose is especially appropriate to a story as turbulent as the tumultuous waters that have claimed many lives over the years. Widowed on her wedding night when her new husband, a young minister and latent homosexual, throws himself into the falls, Ariah Littrell, the plain, awkward daughter of a minister, henceforth considers herself damned. Her bleak future becomes miraculously bright when Dirk Burnaby, a handsome, wealthy bon vivant with an altruistic heart, falls in love with the media-dubbed Widow-Bride. Their rapturous happiness is shadowed only by Ariah's illogical conviction over the years that Dirk will leave her and their three children someday. Her unreasonable fear becomes self-fulfilling when her increasingly unstable behavior, combined with Dirk's obsessed but chaste involvement with Nina Olshaker, a young mother who enlists his help in alerting the city fathers to the pestilential conditions in the area later to be known as Love Canal, opens a chasm in their marriage. His gentle heart inspired by a need for justice, Dirk takes on the powerful, corrupt politicians, his former peers and pals, in a disastrous lawsuit that ruins him socially and financially and results in his death. Oates adroitly addresses the material of this "first" class action lawsuit and makes the story fresh and immediate. "In the end, all drama is about family," a character muses, and while the narrative occasionally lapses into melodrama in elucidating this theme, Oates spins a haunting story in which nature and humans are equally rapacious and self-destructive. Agent, Jane Hawkins. Author tour. (Sept. 16) Forecast: This is likely to be one of Oates's biggest sellers-its heft, striking setting and sheer excellence should make it her highest-profile novel since Blonde. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
The author of more than 30 books, Oates returns to her We Were the Mulvaneys theme of a family torn apart by external events. When Ariah's new husband, Erskine, throws himself into Niagara Falls on the first day of their honeymoon, she endures a seven-day vigil as she awaits the recovery of his body and soon becomes known as the Widow Bride of the Falls. Enter Dirk Burnaby, a local playboy lawyer, who falls in love with Ariah and marries her a month later. Their life goes well, with the birth of two sons and a daughter, but when Dirk takes on what would later be known as the Love Canal lawsuit, his long hours, the rumor of an affair, and the animosity of the community lead to estrangement from his family and then his death. Sixteen years later, we meet Ariah's children, who know nothing of Ariah's past as the Widow Bride; they have known only that the community has ridiculed them inexplicably. Through the discovery of their complicated history, all three children find direction. Oates uses the falls metaphor to powerful effect, dramatizing how our lives can get swept up by forces beyond our control. Highly recommended.-Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Oates (I Am No One You Know, 2003, etc.) painstakingly examines the impulse toward self-destruction--and the ways we find to heal ourselves. The story spans nearly 30 years, beginning in 1950 when newlywed Gilbert Erskine leaps into Niagara Falls to his death, forever traumatizing his bride Ariah, a "spinster" music teacher who had awkwardly stumbled into a marriage neither spouse wanted. The hallucinatory opening section traces Ariah's growing embitterment while introducing young attorney Dirk Burnaby, who impulsively comforts "the Widow-Bride of The Falls," just as impulsively proposes a year after Gilbert's demise--and is accepted. The Burnabys settle in Niagara Falls, produce three children, and keep their often volatile marriage together (despite Ariah's emotional instability and paranoia) until Dirk, moved by the passionate activism of a woman whose family is victimized by environmental poisoning, undertakes the first (1962) lawsuit against the chemical company that had dumped pollutants into Love Canal. The suit is dismissed, Dirk's high standing in the community is destroyed, and his suspicious death pushes Ariah deeper into withdrawal and resentment. The narrative then focuses in turns on her children. Scholarly, introverted Chandler, who has long known he is his mother's firstborn but not her favorite, becomes a science teacher, and eventually the dogged pursuer of the buried facts about his father's obsession and fate. "Golden Boy" Royall struggles to escape the burdens of being loved too easily and achieving too little. And their sister Juliet, who inherits Ariah's musical gifts, must resist a deathward momentum given stunning metaphoric form in the Burnaby family story of a daredevil tightrope walker, and the beckoning "voices" that seem to speak from within the roaring waters of the Falls. This big, enthralling novel recaptures the gift for Dreiserian realism that distinguishes such Oates triumphs as them, What I Lived For, and We Were the Mulvaneys. It's her best ever--and a masterpiece. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.