“Tom Cole, the grandson of a legendary local hero, has inherited an uncanny knack for reading the Niagara River’s whims and performing daring feats of rescue at the mighty falls. And like the tumultuous meeting of the cataract’s waters with the rocks below, a chance encounter between Tom and 17-year-old Bess Heath has an explosive effect. When they first meet on a trolley platform, Bess immediately recognizes the chemistry between them, and the feeling is mutual.
But the hopes of young love are constrained by the 1915 conventions of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Tom’s working-class pedigree doesn’t suit Bess’s family, despite their recent fall from grace. Sacked from his position at a hydroelectric power company, Bess’s father has taken to drink, forcing her mother to take in sewing for the society women who were once her peers. Bess pitches in as she pines for Tom, but at her young age, she’s unable to fully realize how drastically her world is about to change.
Set against the resounding backdrop of the falls, Cathy Marie Buchanan’s carefully researched, capaciously imagined debut novel entwines the romantic trials of a young couple with the historical drama of the exploitation of the river’s natural resources. The current of the river, like that of the human heart, is under threat: “Sometimes it seems like the river is being made into this measly thing,” says Tom, bemoaning the shortsighted schemes of the power companies. “The river’s been bound up with cables and concrete and steel, like a turkey at Christmastime.”
Skillfully portraying individuals, families, a community, and an environment imperiled by progress and the devastations of the Great War, The Day the Falls Stood Still beautifully evokes the wild wonder of its setting, a wonder that always overcomes any attempt to tame it. But at the same time, Buchanan’s tale never loses hold of the gripping emotions of Tom and Bess’s intimate drama. The result is a transporting novel that captures both the majesty of nature and the mystery of love.”
Book Review: ★★★★★★
This is a book I have picked up several times — and I have yet to discover that spark that made this book work for me. I just keep coming away from it hoping that it will improve, and it really never did. The cover and the description both were intriguing. But the substance of the story just didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
The whole story has a very fatalistic feel to it, almost from the very beginning. It starts out with a depressing event, and it seems to degenerate in tone from there. And it is more than just the subject material that produced this effect. There is a feel to this book that just seems to be a downer. The subject matter doesn’t help to improve this problem any. I found myself wondering when the story was actually going to get started, and it just never really seemed to go anywhere. Part of the problem was the constant limitations of the society that the book is set in. But the description of Bess being obliged to put on a corset for the first time made me want to throw the book against the wall. (And yes, I realize that this is a difference in the time periods. And yes, this topic has always infuriated me — the constant oppression of the rigid social requirements of past generations.) It was obvious where the story was going almost from the moment when Bess found herself watching for Tom, and constantly running up against her mother’s disapproval because of his social class. Needless to say, there was really nothing in this book that really set it apart.
I found the setting to be another let down of this book. It really had no presence, and it just seemed to be a superficial backdrop for the story that wasn’t going very far, fast. (Which is saying something since Niagara Falls is anything but boring.) The news articles, while I know they were significant to the story, were a distraction from the overall flow of the book, and I just kept thinking there must be something I am missing.
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The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men,’ he said. ‘It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men – it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good and evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone – the noblest man alive or the most wicked – has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving toward God. — Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram