Tag Archives: Book Reviews

The Falls… by Joyce Carol Oates

Some time ago, I read Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates. I did not give it a favorable review due to subject matter and personal dislikes within the actual writing. Afterward, I was not inclined to read another title by this author, until recently. Another of Oates’s titles, The Falls, came under discussion in one of my writing groups recently. A woman whose taste and opinions I admire greatly raved over it. When I told her about my first and only experience with an Oates title, she insisted that by reading The Falls, I would forever change my opinion of her work.

So I did…

And it didn’t. If anything, it reinforced my initial opinion.

 

Synopsis:

The Falls

The Falls

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 her. What follows is a passionate love affair, marriage, and family – a seemingly p0erfect existence. But tragedy soon takes over their lives, poisoning their halcyon years with distrust, greed, and 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)

 

Review:

Let me say upfront, this title has an average Amazon rating of 3.8, while my rating comes in at an even 3-star review.

This book comes in at just under five-hundred pages for the paperback version. That would make it (in my opinion) roughly 200 pages too long. For what the story was, it could easily and preferably have been condensed to make it a more enjoyable, less over-inflated read. The reason it was so long: purple prose. I tried to stay tied to it even through the thick passages of overly done description, but it was hard. By page 300 or so, I will admit I began skimming the on-and-on-and-on that made it so hard to finish.

The main character, Ariah Littrel, Erskine, Burnaby was so flat she could have been a cardboard cutout inserted between the pages. In the ‘About the Book’ section following the story, the author refers to Ariah as being eccentric.

Eccentric: adj. (of a person or their behavior) unconventional or slightly strange.

Ariah isn’t slightly strange. She is ridiculously strange. She is mentally challenged. She is melodramatic. She is emotionally abusive to her children. She is paranoid. She is a lot of things, but slightly strange is a gross understatement.

There are many questions left unanswered when you come to the end of the book. Or maybe they were red herrings that leave the reader feeling cheated. Who knows, maybe they were loose ends the author didn’t bother to tie up. Whatever they were, they were annoying. One of the examples that annoyed me the most: Clarice, Dirk’s mother, tells Ariah following Chandler’s birth that they both know her son is not the baby’s father. That he can’t possibly be. She tells Ariah an unknown fact about her son that is meant to prove her knowledge of Chandler’s paternity. Ariah never admits or denies, nor does she mention this conversation to her husband leaving the reader to believe it is so. Yet, years later, Dirk and Ariah go on to have two more children. If he couldn’t have fathered one, how did he father two more? Unless the explanation occurred during my speed-reading of the last 200 pages, it was never addressed again. Another example was the woman in black who appeared at the cemetery with Royall. Was it the same woman in black that had dogged his father? And why did she seek him out? We were made to believe that Dirk never slept with her, so she wasn’t trying to recapture what she had with his father. A reason, however lame, would have given that scene a little validity.

Who killed Howell? Assuming he is dead (since he went missing) Stonecrop? Roy (Royall). Another item that wasn’t addressed.

At times, the book seems to wander with no direction. I read a review where someone said the sentence structure was odd. The story structure was odd in many places.

I was truly interested at the beginning of the book, even though it was description-heavy. She had me until Dirk’s murder. From there, I forced myself to read every word I didn’t skip over. I think the only thing that might have saved this book (as it was written), is if she had written a stronger lead character. Eccentric is Ann Margaret in Grumpy Old Men. When she comes out of the sauna and rolls around in the snow, or when she nearly climaxes while talking about art. Ariah was an extremely unlikable character who had my sympathy in the beginning, but lost it quickly.

Oates can write. I don’t intend for my review to take that away from her. But this particular title was overwritten. And bordered on strange, yet not as off-putting as Daddy Love. Shudder…. Would I take a chance on another of her titles? Twice shy, probably not.

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Ten Days… by Janet Gilsdorf

Writing a novel is hard. Damned hard. For every successful author there are ten writers who either have an idea for a book they never write, have attempted to write a book that sits dust-covered on a shelf, or has written a book that they self-published in an over-zealous attempt to gain fame/money. So, I admire any writer who can finish a quality book, even if I’m not particularly fond of it.

That being said…

Everyone has their favorite genre and I’m no different. I am partial to women’s fiction and family situation type reads. When I picked Ten Days up, the blurb read like something I’d be interested in.

Ten Days

Ten Days

The premise was good. I liked the alternating POVs, although I am still baffled by the significance of the Rose Marie character, especially since she was one of the main POV characters. I wish my likes had been greater, but unfortunately, this is where they end.

Both Jake and Anna are melodramatic. Jake, by constantly thinking of himself, how his life could have been (Monica), and what he could/should have done differently the night his son became ill. I lost count of how many times he thought, ‘if only I was home’, ‘if only I had asked the right questions’, ‘if only Anna had realized the seriousness’, leaving me to believe that the book should have been titled, If Only.

Anna suffers from distorted thinking. Her thoughts are filtered. She takes facts, filters them through her mind and comes out of it with all of the negative aspects, the positive being discarded. She is an unlikable character from the onset. She is needy, over critical, and paranoid (she believes a man at the hospital wants her son to die so that his daughter can have his liver, she saw the ‘wish’ on his face!?!)

Aside from the characters not being well-drawn or even likable, the writing took me out of the story too many times to find it enjoyable. For instance, on page 128 – a nurse asks Anna if she wants to see the visitor who is in the waiting room. Three paragraphs later, Anna replies. During those three paragraphs Anna’s internalization covers everything except the visitor, such as why her husband didn’t come home the night their son became ill and how she was possibly able to sleep through the night, etc.,. It’s basically an entire book of them beating themselves up (both taking blame and laying blame) over their son becoming ill.

The book starts off extremely slow. I felt the beginning chapters were included as filler to plump up an otherwise ‘light’ book. Too much talk about water heaters, the bridge and the woman who died when she went over it leading one to believe that the bridge would play a significant role in the book. The story is about ten days in the life of a family after their son becomes ill. It is painfully drawn out. There is so  much internalization, most of it a repeat of the last time we were given access to their thoughts.

I believed when the second child was struck with meningitis it would pick up, but that didn’t happen. When I know I’m going to give a review I don’t skip or skim, but I found reading every word excruciating. Many words without much being said and so little forward movement. I come in under the 3.7 average given by Amazon and the 3.1 given by Goodreads with 2-stars. But again, I applaud the author’s ability to get her story on paper, even if it wasn’t something I found enjoyable.

Kathy Reinhart is the author of the award-winning Lily White Lies.

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