The Falls

The Falls

by Joyce Carol Oates


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It is 1950 and, after a disastrous honeymoon night, Ariah Erskine's young husband throws himself into the roaring waters of Niagara Falls. Ariah, "the Widow Bride of the Falls," begins a relentless seven-day vigil in the mist, waiting for his body to be found. At her side is confirmed bachelor and pillar of the community Dirk Burnaby, who is unexpectedly drawn to this plain, strange woman. What follows is a passionate love affair, marriage, and family—a seemingly perfect existence. But the tragedy by which they were thrown together begins to shadow them, damaging their idyll with distrust, greed, and even murder.

Set against the mythic-historic backdrop of Niagara Falls in the mid-twentieth century, this haunting exploration of the American family in crisis is a stunning achievement from "one of the great artistic forces of our time" (The Nation).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061565342
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/10/2008
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 854,553
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been several times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. Her most recent novel is A Book of American Martyrs. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.


Princeton, New Jersey

Date of Birth:

June 16, 1938

Place of Birth:

Lockport, New York


B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

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Falls 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 73 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
THE FALLS is the kind of breathless, unrelenting novel we can only read once or twice a year considering the energy it saps from you. But it¿s a good draining, for the book is like a marathon, and the breathlessness we feel at the end is not strained but earned from what we are willing to give it, and what it gives to us. Its forceful and fully realized characters allow the plot to pulse along at breakneck speed, and we are rewarded by the enthralling story Oates has spun from her seemingly bottomless imagination. While it may not be the most astounding of Oates¿s numerous dazzling achievements (for me, that novel is WHAT I LIVED FOR), THE FALLS is nonetheless a testament to the idea of fictions as entertainments, and of a novel¿s ability to speak from its own subconscious but compelling narrative voice. Oates¿s evocation of time and place in and around the Niagara Falls area of New York is, as usual, on display to full effect, and the powerful female protagonist (Arriah) becomes¿by novel¿s end¿one of Oates¿s most memorable. If you know anything of Oates¿s corpus, this is a not a small thing. Highly recommended, and highly entertaining.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I finished reading The Falls a few days ago and all I can say is 'WOW'. What a wonderful book! I just could not put this book down. The characters come to life and you feel like you know them and you begin to care about each and every one. I love the way JCO describes scenery and places, you feel like you are right there. I did not want this book to end. Even though I finished the book a few days ago I am still thinking about all the colorful characters, they all came to life for me. Joyce Carol Oates is an extremely gifted writer. This is the first book I have read by her and I can't wait to read more of her books. She writes so beautifully, her words just flow and you can't get enough. I love the fact that she incorporates history with fiction. I highly recommend this book to everyone. Please BUY IT! You won't be sorry.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I completely disagree with the other person who posted a negative review on this book. That person had negative complaints that were more about punctuation and sentence formation which frankly, made him sound as though he were a school teacher grading the book rather than a reader relaxing and taking in the story for entertainment value. My take on the book was very different and I was completely entranced and at times touched by every long, run on sentence that the other reviewer complained about. The writer's form did not bother me at all and I rather enjoyed it. To me, it felt more like a person would really talk to you or the way your feelings and thoughts flow in real life; like floating and I think that is the feeling she was trying to create. I think it was mistaken for bad grammar when it was really just her sense of style. That's my take on it. She has always had this sort of gothic style where she tries to create a sense of timelessness and a 'being of its own world' kind of style. A sort of suspension that captures the reader into believing that, the only world that matters at that very moment is the one they create in their own imagination while they read the story. The book is their guide, however, some people are not going to understand her world or care for it if they do. So be it, put it down and don't finish it. But, I don't think it is fair to come on here and complain about this book (which I personally think was excellent and one of her best books) and critique it almost completely, based solely on it's lack of proper sentence formation and base your entire review on that when there were so many things to love about the writing here. That, is a total injustice. It's not fair to the book to say it could have been great but isn't because the editor didn't do a good job. This book IS great! It IS worth buying and reading! So go buy it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could never find the point of the story. Characters came and went without resolve. Other times major plots were hinted at and then nothing ever became of them (ie Who was Chandler's biological father?) Sometimes the story telling became a first person narrative yet who was speaking was never clearly defined. I was left feeling confused and disappointed. There could have been much more to this story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first JCO's book I've read. I am hooked. I was incredibly sad when it ended. I haven't read a book that I kept thinking about for a long time. I have yet to start another because I am still savoring this one. Read this book and get ready to wonder about your own family dynamics!
nancymitchell More than 1 year ago
GOOD READ! Flawed characters make this one and surprises and twists keep the reader's eyes glued to the pages; not an ooey gooey nauseating sweet tale, but a more true to life story with very human dilemmas. Interesting!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a beautiful writing style. One where you savor the choice of words. The pictures painted are exquisite in their exacting detail.
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿Oh, the Places You¿ll Go!¿ This title of a popular Dr. Seuss book is a great description of The Falls, a wonderful new book by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates is the definitive writer of tumultuous family relationships and the schism/crater/gulf between parent and child. The story begins in 1950 with a trip to Niagara Falls¿a popular honeymoon spot¿by a newly appointed minister and the spinster daughter of a distinguished reverend who have just been married. The daughter¿s parents are relieved with this match, but the young minister is not. He leaves his new marital bed and leaps off Horseshoe Falls. Thus begins the story of Ariah, the ¿Widow of the Falls¿ as she is named in the media flurry that follows the suicide of her husband. Despite this tragic beginning, the book is not gray and depressing. Ariah ¿awakens¿ after her husband¿s death and really begins her life with another marriage that produces three children. Ariah welcomes the children, but raising them causes her a great deal of difficulty. One of the many ¿places you¿ll go¿ in this story is the Love Canal, the site of a historically real and tragic scandal involving the U.S. Government, and this scandal captures the novel. At the Love Canal, toxic waste was improperly dumped, causing the deaths of many innocent people. Ariah¿s second husband, a lawyer, represents the victims at the Love Canal and sues the government and the companies involved, jeopardizing his influential position in the town. One of his colleagues shakes his head and warns him, ¿Never underestimate the moral rot of your adversary.¿ Ariah has trouble embracing the cause and is unable to withstand the rejection and adversity caused by the lawsuit. Ariah¿s three offspring are denied the story of her first husband, even though the town remembers the ¿Widow of the Falls.¿ The children are also denied any information about their own father because Ariah refuses to talk about him after his Love Canal escapade and separation from the family. The children make their own discoveries. To my surprise, the children become the protagonists and heroes of the story, overcoming many trials and tribulations in this generous tome. This novel hooked me very early. Many times I attempted to slow down the page-turning to delay the end of my relationships with these characters. But, alas, I devoured it way too fast. I hope to have more discipline and good sense when I read the book again, which I certainly will do. Oh the places I will go!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've enjoyed books by Ms. Oates in the past, and looked forward to reading the Falls. The story had promise, but most of the content of the book was beyond tedious. The primary character was self absorbed and impossible to care for. So many words to describe so little action. I slogged through to the end hoping for some closure. Nope. None, none at all. Just lots of words, and no real finish. Avoid this book, there's too many better books out there.
vixa More than 1 year ago
The story was a good one, but very graphic with death details. At first, I liked the female character, but 1/2 way through the book, I didn't like her very much at all. Also, it was hard to like her husband and her children. The "falls" was a good lesson in history, but I have to like my characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The only reason I finished reading it was because I had already paid for it and I didn't want to waste my money.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Listened to Anna Fields' audio version of 'The Falls.' Loved it! I read the critique by the reviewer who raved on and on about the long sentences, word usage, etc. All I can say is the reviewer 'just doesn't get it.' The book was written that way for a purpose --- to create a mood --- 'The Falls' --- get it? That lives can be swept away by forces --- the writing conveys a perfect haunting, drowning mood --- which is exactly what a book about 'The Falls' should do.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The jacket of the novel proclaims, 'A stunning achievement from Joyce Carol Oates, 'One of the great artistic forces of our time.' (The Nation) 'It alone places Joyce Carol Oates definitively in the company of the Great American novelists.' The generally acerbic Kirkus Reviews wrote a flattering review also: 'It's her best ever and a masterpiece.' So I picked up the bulky book with great expectation of experiencing the joy of reading a good book. Alas, I was quite startled by the sloppy sentences written with very little care for either grammar or style. She says about Dirk Burnaby. 'He, Dirk Burnaby, whom women adored, and some of them happily married rich women, ignored by this woman!' 'The tall gaunt house in Palmyra, New York, mud-colored brick and rotted shingleboards in the roof and a congregation of less than two hundred people, most of them middle-aged and older, to whom the young minister must 'prove' himself.' Did the author mean fewer than two hundred people, not less than two hundred people? About Douglas she writes: 'He was proud husband and father of two-year-old girl twins.' Did she mean twin girls, not girl twins? Joyce uses nouns as adjectives, and adjectives as if they were adverbs. Her sentences grated upon my ears, and I wondered - how could a winner of the National Book Award (for 'Them', 1970) write such sloppy English? The novel is littered with sentences that run almost for ever, leaving readers jaded. I had to stop frequently to follow the author's chain of thoughts. Oh, what is the author trying to say? And often I had the distinct impression that she was trying to enter the Guiness Book of Records for writing the longest sentence in print:' His back bone was snapped, and snapped, and snapped like the dried wishbone of a turkey clutched at by giggling children and his body was flung lifeless as a rag doll at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls, lifted and dropped and lifted again amid the rocks and sucked down amid churning water and winking miniature rain drops, lost now to the appalled sight of the sole witness at the railing at Terrapin Point - though shortly it would be regurgitated from the foot of The Falls and swept downriver three-quarters of a mile past the Whilrpool Rapids and into the Devil's Whirlpool where it would be sucked down from sight and trapped in the spiraling water - the broken body would spin like a deranged moon in orbit until, in His mercy, or His whimsy, God would grant the miracle of putrifaction to inflate the body with gases, floating it to the surface of the foaming gyre, and release.' Wow! I found myself longing for the precise and elegant prose of V. S. Naipaul, Joseph Conrad, Yann Martel or Jane Austen. This could have been a wonderful book if only the editor had wielded her/his pencil diligently. Too bad. I found the story quite gripping, though. But the writing is flawed, like a face with beautiful, even angelic, features but marred by acne and pocks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you have read Joyce Carol Oates before you know what to expect. She writes beautifully. Her characters are extremely well developed. And the story is generally depressing, as is this multigenerational one of a family that lives their lives in thr shadow of Niagara Falls.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found the story compelling and the writing beautiful, poetic. However, can I be the only reader who found herself completely derailed by the gratuitous graveyard tryst in the middle of the novel? As an avid reader of many genres, I am willing and eager to suspend my disbelief when the story or genre calls for it. This event struck out of nowhere and with no conceivable purpose or justification. The behaviors of the characters in this scene were completely unbelievable. Clearly some catalyst was needed for the events that immediately followed, but given the skill of the writer, surely a plausible event could have been devised! I had a difficult time sinking myself back into the story after having been so blindsided and betrayed by such a bizarre turn.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I only finished this horrible book because I bought it. Very disjointed, too many POVs, never sure who's thinking/talking, or what time frame it is as it jumps around in each sentence. I hated Ariaha, and the book took weird turns into pediophelia randomly. It only got bearable the last 1\3 of the book when it was from the kids POVs. Then it just ended with no point or reconciliations of any kind. Never reading this author again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Joyce Carol Oates is my favorite author. She writes with depth and elegant prose. This is not a beach read. You have to commit.
bookendco More than 1 year ago
The flow of the book was a little different. You were introduced to the nuances of a characters one by one. It was an interesting story but I didn't love it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. The writing is beautiful. Interesting story line, well developed characters.
BookishDame on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think Joyce Carol Oates is the genius of our generation. She is the American woman writer of our times who expresses the angst and the character of people of the 20th century, and now into the 21st century. There's not a book she's written that isn't worthwhile reading and discussing in a bookgroup or study."The Falls," is the story of a family who lives in Niagra Falls and experiences the trials and traumas of ordinary, disfunction; as well as the political history that blankets their town. It's a history of the Falls, too, and a history of what created the Love Canal...the poisonous run-off of radioactive chemicals that made such a turmoil that the American side of the Falls was split from the Canadian side.I've visited the Falls, and the contrast between the Love Canal side and the other is like visiting a ghost town or ghetto to a city in a garden state. Strange and decidedly a warning of things possible with chemical poisoning of waters by big business.The storyline of this novel is engaging, to say the least, and the tension between family members and lovers is keenly felt as you read.I highly recommend "The Falls" to everyone!
CatieN on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As with most of Oates' books, I began reading this and thought, Okay, this is odd. Am I going to be able to slog through this? Then, before I know it, I'm sucked into the story and can't put it down. This is a saga covering almost 40 years in the life of the Burnaby family and the history of Niagra Falls. I couldn't even begin to summarize all that happens during that time. Suffice it to say, it is a fascinating and enjoyable journey.
LauraJWRyan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Remarkable. My head is just too chock full of things to say, but feel somewhat speechless. "The Falls" feels like a force of nature ¿ it roars along with a can't put it down pace, scenes full of emotive words smashing their way to the end ¿ and the end came quietly as if further down river away from the misty, churning Niagara River gorge. A very satisfying read, and has become a new `favorite¿ on my bookshelf full of favorites by JCO (Them, Wonderland, Middle Age, Bellefleur). It is one of her best.
karieh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The most compelling character in Joyce Carol Oates¿s ¿The Falls¿ is the title character. Niagara Falls, the power and drama of the waterfalls¿and the hypnotic aspect of one of nature¿s most amazing creations¿in that character I found beauty and intrigue.¿The most treacherous corner of Goat Island, as it was the most beautiful and enthralling. Here the rapids go into a frenzy. White frothy churning water shooting up fifteen feet into the air. Hardly any visibility. The chaos of a nightmare. The Horseshoe Falls is a gigantic cataract a half-mile long at its crest, three thousand tons of water pouring over the gorge each second. The air roars, shakes. The ground beneath your feet shakes. As if the very earth is beginning to come apart, disintegrate into particles, down to its molten center. As if time has ceased. Time has exploded. As if you¿ve come too near to the radiant, thrumming, mad heart of all being. Here, your veins, arteries, the minute precision and perfection of your nerves will be unstrung in an instant. Your brain, in which you reside, that one-of-a-kind repository of you, will be pounded into its chemical components: brain cells, molecules, atoms. Every shadow and echo of every memory erased.¿¿Maybe that¿s the promise of The Falls? The secret?¿Sorry that quote was so long ¿ but there¿s no place to stop once you fall under the spell of those words. I¿ve never been to Niagara Falls ¿ but after reading that part, I find myself mentally forcing myself away from the edge, psychically wiping drops of heavily churned water from my skin. I am there, I feel the sounds, and my eyes are drawn into the massive amounts of water and spray and sheer force.Whenever Oates takes us back to the falls ¿ my interest is piqued once again. During the rest of the book, as we meet damaged character after damaged character¿my interest wanes. As I have said before (and will no doubt say many times again), my fatal flaw as a reader is that I have to feel some connection to at least one of the characters in the book to really want to keep reading the book. None of the (human) characters in this book connected with me.I did feel sympathy and interest for Ariah, ¿The Widow Bride of the Falls¿ until her character abruptly changed, or manifested itself. The idea that a groom, one day after marrying, would throw himself into Niagara Falls is quite a hook. Ariah¿s feelings about this event were compelling, to say the least. But once her life takes a more conventional turn, she seems to be a different person. Instead of sympathy, I started to feel revulsion.Which is fine¿ So then we enter the minds of other characters, her second husband, her children¿ These people have so many problems, so much despair, and seem unable to relate to their lives, their world. Maybe Oates takes us too far into their minds, into the deepest, darkest parts of their soul, where things live that no one wants to even think about, let alone talk about. Maybe I ended up knowing too much about them to connect to them. Again, this is fine¿for some readers. Oates brings forth some real truths ¿ some we may not want to acknowledge ¿ but ones that exist, nonetheless.¿You yearn to hurt them sometimes. Those who love you too much.¿And there¿s another quote (which I now an unable to find for the life of me) that says something like ¿the world is torn between those who fight to be loved more and those who fight to be loved less¿. This book contains multiple examples of this ¿ inappropriate loves, shameful loves, unforgiving loves, doomed loves¿All worthy of examination¿but maybe I just don¿t have the stomach for such a process. Oates is such a descriptive and evocative writer¿I just don¿t think I am eager to see the world she describes or handle the emotions she evokes.
FicusFan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was my first JCO book. I can't say I am all that interested to read her again. I liked the beginning, and the ending, but the middle really dragged. It seemed very flabby and rambling. The characters were odd, but had that touch of reality, so you could believe in them. Looking back at the mores and manners of the times was interesting and well done, but ultimately not enough to carry the book. This isn't really a book where something happens, in terms of plot. It is more a fly on the wall type of book where you watch the people interact, and live. Just not interesting enough to carry that kind of weight.Not sure I cared for the introduction of Love Canal. Once that part of the book started the reading doldrums set in.There was a lot of symbolism with the falls and the river, and life, but ho hum, it too didn't really do anything to interest or entertain.
dts1dbm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
way too long - did audio version, first time reading this author - never got deep in story - left you hanging. wouldnt recommend unless you absolutely have nothing else to read