Joyce Carol Oates
Ecco, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book
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Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai
oyce Carol Oates'
is an intriguing novel that delves into the American industrialisation of the Great Lakes area before and after World War II – chemical plants, steel refineries, hydro-electric works to harness the power of Niagara Falls. Within this setting, Oates weaves the tale of a new bride who has to come to terms with the fact that her husband of less than a day has thrown himself into the falls. Ariah, this not-so-young widow-bride, has the most amazing affect on one of Niagara's most eligible bachelors, Dirk Burnaby, and it is their strange tale that Joyce Carol Oates recounts.
urnaby's own family history can be traced back to one of Niagara's tightrope daredevils, who made several crossings of the fabled falls, all but one successfully. Dirk's monied family is well liked and respected in the community, but his choice of a bride leaves many, especially his own relatives, in a state of shock. Ariah does nothing to smooth things over; she is a nervous and high-strung individual who does not make friends readily, finding solace in both her piano and singing. She is not altogether the most charming of heroines, at one point noting: '
So one generation grinds another into the earth. Into boxes. Into bones, dust. Into oblivion. Ariah smiled cruelly to think how little the promise of heaven must mean, if you've lost earth.
irk and Ariah enjoy a wonderful relationship in the early years of their marriage, and have three children within twelve years. Then Dirk, a well-respected lawyer, becomes fixated on a pro bono case he takes up – the first of the '
' litigations. The strain on Ariah and Dirk's relationship is palpable; she has just given birth to their third child, while Dirk spends more and more time at the office, obsessed with this case.
oyce Carol Oates has a fine ability to explore the human condition and to develop the psyches of her characters. However, the novel's editing was disappointing. Early on we are told that Ariah was 29 when she married for the first time, followed almost immediately by her marriage to Dirk Burnaby; their first child, Chandler, was born, prematurely, eight months after their wedding. Much later in the book, when Ariah is single-handedly bringing up her three children, we learn that, '
shortly after her fiftieth birthday, Ariah had to have emergency surgery for the removal of gallstones ... Chandler was ten at the time and beginning to be independent-minded
'. Unfortunately, this gives the impression that the book was rushed to press without proper editing.
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