Monday, January 26, 2009

What I read: "The Falls" by Joyce Carol Oates

It's true. I have to admit it now. I definitely have a thing for Joyce Carol Oates. In the past year, I have read three of her books ("The Gravedigger's Daughter," "Missing Mom" and now, "The Falls"). They're all pretty heavy books -- love, dysfunctional families, tragedy. But Oates weaves her sad tales with beautiful images and intriguing characters. There are characters to hate, to love, to love to hate and to hate to love. But there are very few characters you can feel ambivalent about.

"The Falls" begins in June 1950 and spans the next 28 years of the life of Ariah Littrell, who becomes Ariah Erskine, then Ariah Littrell again and Ariah Burnaby in short order. I don't want to give too much away, but this is an Oates book, so you know there will be joy and pain right from the start.

Set in Niagara Falls, New York, "The Falls" paints a picture of the city, from its tourist sites to the infamous Love Canal. "Love Canal" -- words I remember vaguely growing up, words then-president Carter talked about. I'm embarrassed to say I had to look up more information about the controversy while reading this book. (You can find some information here, here and here. And there's plenty more information out there.) The lives of people suffering illness due to toxic dumping melds with the Burnaby family, which suffers its own toxicity.

I think Oates may be a bit of an acquired taste, as I've said, she deals in tragedy and dysfunction. But I have definitely acquired the taste. I have a hard time putting down her books and seek out new ones and old ones I've yet to read.

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