The Day the Falls Stood Still
by Cathy Marie Buchanan
It’s the final day of school, but seventeen-year-old Bess Heath is miserable. Her father has lost his job, so she will not be able to return to the exclusive academy in the fall. Her beautiful sister Isabel was to marry one of the city’s most eligible bachelors, but news of their father’s fall from grace has caused Boyce Cruickshank to call off the engagement. The family’s social contacts disappear as rapidly as their remaining cash, and there’s nothing for the girls to do but sit in their empty house and long for the days of plenty. Bess befriends a lower-class worker named Tom Cole, despite her family’s disapproval, and after tragedy takes her sister away the two of them marry. Tom has become a local hero after rescuing several people from the Niagara’s swiftly churning waters, and as the years pass he becomes an extremely vocal critic of industrialization and its effect on the Niagara Falls water system. His desire to stand against the power corporations is frustrated by his need to provide for his family, and the conflict tests their marriage again and again. This old-fashioned love story, set in the years surrounding World War I, relies heavily on real-life daredevil Red Hill, and is peppered with faux newspaper articles describing his fictional counterpart’s deeds.
The Day the Falls Stood Still is the author’s debut novel, but her writing is very polished and precise. I could very clearly picture the life of the Canadian upper class at the turn of the century, or feel the icy water and intense pressure of Niagara Falls. It was very easy to get swept away into the lives of Bess and Tom. Of course, it helped that there was always some sort of struggle, whether it was Bess defying the norms of society to marry Tom and then scrimping to make ends meet or Tom fighting in France during World War I. As the story marches toward its inevitable conclusion – while engrossing, the plot’s also very predictable – there were stretches of environmentalism-laced narrative that became a little preachy, but by then I was so invested in the story that it didn’t matter. I tore through The Day the Falls Stood Still in a single day, and at three hundred pages it’s not a short little novella.
This book’s rich imagery should appeal to many readers, but it will especially interest fans of historical fiction and the environmentally conscious.
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