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Aug 31, 2009

Book Review: "The Day the Falls Stood Still" by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Day The Falls Stood Still
"The Day the Falls Stood Still" by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Hardcover: 320 pages
Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Voice (August 25, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1401340970 ISBN-13: 978-1401340971
Review copy provided by Voice
The Burton Review Rating:4.5 Stars

"Steeped in the intriguing history of Niagara Falls, this epic love story is as rich, spellbinding, and majestic as the falls themselves.
1915. The dawn of the hydroelectric power era in Niagara Falls. Seventeen-year-old Bess Heath has led a sheltered existence as the youngest daughter of the director of the Niagara Power Company. After graduation day at her boarding school, she is impatient to return to her picturesque family home near Niagara Falls. But when she arrives, nothing is as she had left it. Her father has lost his job at the power company, her mother is reduced to taking in sewing from the society ladies she once entertained, and Isabel, her vivacious older sister, is a shadow of her former self. She has shut herself in her bedroom, barely eating--and harboring a secret.
The night of her return, Bess meets Tom Cole by chance on a trolley platform. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to him--against her family's strong objections. He is not from their world. Rough-hewn and fearless, he lives off what the river provides and has an uncanny ability to predict the whims of the falls. His daring river rescues render him a local hero and cast him as a threat to the power companies that seek to harness the power of the falls for themselves. As their lives become more fully entwined, Bess is forced to make a painful choice between what she wants and what is best for her family and her future.
Set against the tumultuous backdrop of Niagara Falls, at a time when daredevils shot the river rapids in barrels and great industrial fortunes were made and lost as quickly as lives disappeared, The Day the Falls Stood Still is an intoxicating debut novel

The Day the Falls Stood Still is a very promising debut novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan. The story is set in Canada near the Niagara where its wonderful beauty and history is emanated from Cathy's descriptions. This is the story of Bess Heath, who suddenly finds herself at a turning point in her life when everything is forced to change due to the fact that her father lost his job at the power plant. Bess's mother, father and sister are intriguing characters along with Bess herself, and we immediately get drawn into this captivating telling of this family's journey. There are quite a few supporting characters as well, each adding depth and drama to this story as Bess must make difficult choices that end up haunting her family, which cast her as a strong and brave woman.

Mr. Heath, Bess's father, loses his long-time job at the hydroelectric plant which puts the family into a downward spiral of economic hardship and despair. Although set in 1915, the modern economic times also mirrors the struggles that the Heath family faced back then, and they also had the war to deal with. Mr. Heath shuts his family out, Mrs. Heath can do little to get him out of his self-induced funk, and Bess's treasured sister Isabel is going through her own personal crisis. And through it all, Bess is watching trying to add strength to her family, as she is trying to adjust to a new way of life after her father loses his job.

A light at the end of the tunnel is when the son of a prominent family member proposes to Bess, but Bess has fallen in love with a fishmonger of whom her family strongly disapproves. And then suddenly a horrifying tragedy occurs, sending the family into an emotional spiral of grief and depression and further forces the family into the speculative limelight of gossipers. How Bess and her family deal with this tragedy is portrayed simply, but it is told with a distinct grip of grief that is significant of excellent writing that resonates throughout the novel.

All the while through this story of Bess and the trials of her family, Bess goes through her own life events of marriage, career and children which makes the book a sort of romance in the beginning; but all is told with the Niagara as an integral part to the novel and not just as a backdrop. The story of the man, Fergus Cole, who previously was a renowned riverman known for daring river rescues at the Falls, is the undercurrent in the story with interesting anecdotes about him and his rescues, which also makes the book a sort of historical. The author was inspired for this novel by the true riverman William "Red" Hill, and the rescues are depicted in the novel as well. It is cleverly portrayed through newspaper clippings along with inspiring old photos of the Falls themselves. The residents of the area were caught between the controversy of technology and development versus the preservation of the sanctity of the Falls and the river, and serves as a theme throughout this novel as Bess finds herself right in the middle of the issues.

This is an informative look on the impact of both the electric powerhouses of the times, and the majestic force of the Niagara. The story moves swiftly and is sadly poignant but engrossing all the same. Giving the novel an even more realistic flavor is the attention given to the dressmaking projects that Bess takes on, as this is how many women helped to support the family in the days of WWI. The few criticisms I have is that the book ended, and that the back cover exposes a major turning point in the book that should not have been given away on the back cover (which will not be divulged here). This is not for the weak of heart as it is certainly not a happy-joy-joy type of book. The ending leaves you feeling bereft through its heart wrenching details, but this makes for a compelling read and I recommend it for the main character's fortitude and strength. I look forward to future works by Cathy Marie Buchanan, so that I can again relive the intense drama that she writes.

The author Cathy Marie Buchanan will be adorning this blog with a guest post/author's note tomorrow, in which she speaks of the legendary rescuer William 'Red' Hill and shares some older photos of the Niagara Falls. I would love for you to stop by and enter the giveaway for this novel then!

If you cannot wait for the giveaway and absolutely must purchase this because I have written such an awesome review, then please visit:
Amazon, B&N, Powell's or an independent bookseller to purchase!

If you have written a review and would like for me to link you to this post, please leave a comment and I will do so.