Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Day the Falls Stood Still


The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Hardcover, 307 pages
Voice, August 2009
ISBN-13: 9781401340971
historical fiction
highly recommended

Publishers Weekly:
Set against the backdrop of WWI and Niagara Falls, this debut tells the story of young Bess Heath and her struggle to navigate a quickly modernizing world. A child of privilege, Bess sees her fortunes change when her father loses his job. Cast into poverty, her family disgraced, Bess tries to hold things together while her sister slips into depression, her father drinks and her mother withdraws. After another tragedy strikes, Bess finds comfort in the love of Tom Cole, a river man with a mysterious connection to the falls. Overcoming the deep privation of the war and their own limited means, the two begin building a life together and renew their commitment to each other and their family. Based loosely on the history of Niagara river man William “Red” Hill, the book incorporates mock newspaper articles with limited success, but does integrate some detailed depictions of domestic life and fascinating natural history into an otherwise uneventful romance. (Sept.)
My Thoughts:

The Day the Falls Stood Still, Buchanan's debut novel, is set at the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, from June 1915 to October 1923. Buchanan has based some characters and historical references on actual people/events. The falls and river are an integral part of the story and with the inclusion of actual historical photos, I now want to read a nonfiction book about the history of Niagara Falls. In fact, I really wish Buchanan had based even more parts of her story on historical events. Exploring even further the history and exploitation of the Niagara River would have made the novel stronger for me. The love story in The Day the Falls Stood Still is realistic, with struggles and trials, rather than over-the-top emotional melodrama, which I appreciated. There are parts of the characters lives that I found rather unbelievable (for example, the ease in which Bess becomes a seamstress - no spoilers here) and wish their struggles had been more fully developed and explored. (To be honest, I actually didn't really like any of the characters.) Still, I found that The Day the Falls Stood Still held my interest and attention to the end. (I'm going to pass this book along to my mother and we'll see what she has to say after she reads it.)
highly recommended

(Won from Ti in a book giveaway at http://bookchatter.net/ )

Quotes:

For a moment I cling to the possibility that I will return to the academy in the fall for my final year. But Sister Ignatius is yet another example of the sisters having gone soft and sentimental, the way people tend to when they are saying goodbye. pg. 6

I have only the foggiest notion of what an unemployed father means. pg 9

Usually when I leave Loretto for the summer holiday, Father is here, waiting in his Cadillac at the north door. He feigns impatience, shaking his head with the other fathers as we girls embrace and weep our goodbyes....But today as I pass through the doorway, I am unmoved. I give only a cursory glance to the arched window overhead, with its etching of the Last Supper. Jesus and his friends. Peter, who denied him. Judas, who betrayed him for thirty coins. pg. 12

...he was wearing the matching waistcoat and jacket, neckcloth, and flat cap of the working class, though he carried himself well. His hair hung a little long, with a few locks the color of wheat reaching beyond his ears. His skin was bronzed, suggesting he spent a great deal of time outdoors. His eyes were like the Niagara River: green, full of vigor, captivatingly so. He was handsome, but not at all in an aristocratic way. There was nothing to suggest an easy life or time spent primping and preening. pg. 13-14

I linger on the fifth bead and pray in earnest.
O Father, forgive me, my family, our sins. Save us from the misery and poverty that I do not think we know how to bear. We are in need of your mercy, all of us. I am afraid. Amen. pg. 18

"...I'm sewing frocks again."
"A dressmaker?" Though Mother is a whiz with needle and thread, a skill picked up way back when Father was only a clerk, it is difficult to imagine her bent over a sewing machine rather than ambling about the garden...."
"I've made seven dresses and have orders for nine more. Mrs. Atwell convinced me I could earn a decent wage, and then she ordered the first three." pg. 21

Father had lost his job and his fortune, and convinced a handful of his colleagues to gamble away theirs. Even so, there was something more that had caused folks to turn their backs on a woman as respected as Mother, something truly appalling, like a husband whiling away the days with his nose in a pint, particularly with so many young men suffering overseas.
"Last week I told him I could smell the whiskey on him," Isobel says, "He said I sounded like a prohibitionist, and I said if prohibition meant keeping fathers sober, then war or no war, maybe I was." pg. 27-28

It is my chance to tell her about Tom, but is there anything to say? He and I have spoken politely, only about practical things - scaling a fish, westerly winds pushing water over the falls. I learned his name just this morning. pg. 41

"The river's been bound up with cables and concrete and steel, like a turkey at Christmastime."
It was the most I had ever heard him say, and his seeming idea that the river ought to be left alone took me by surprise. It was contrary to anything I had ever heard.... pg. 49

3 comments:

Diane said...

excellent review; i liked this book a lot as well.

Anna said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed this one, as it's on my desk waiting to be read. Actually, I haven't seen anything by positive reviews. :)

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Lori L said...

I entered the give-away based on all the positive reviews I had read. (I think my mom is going to like it too.)