The following 2 paragraphs were written more than a week ago, when I had reached page 100 (of the 480 this book has). And I meant to rephrase, to put it all in a larger context when I did finish the book, but now I’d rather leave things like this. After all, that was my first, raw, impression of the book:
The first 50 pages were promising. Or maybe less than 50 pages. Until Gilbert dies (no spoiler, that’s in the first chapter, the effin’ book has 500 pages 😀 ). Their first night reminded me of Ian McEwan’s Chesil Beach. And even if she’s a woman, his description and journey into a woman’s mind felt a lot more convincing – to me at least. Then….then there’s too much family drama. Dirk’s ardent feelings – really now *that* type of man, to fall for *that* type of woman – it’s the stuff Sunday night movies are made of. Sappy and unconvincing. Too much soap-opera. Too much seemingly fake drama. The highs and lows of married life. Too much common place. The way I figure it, a book has to have more than “real life” – it had to have some sort of extraordinary event(s) or situation(s) or idea(s) to get your attention and to keep you captured. And I really, really ain’t captured…
It’s not that I don’t like it – it’s just that I don’t really care either way. I think I’m being a bit harsh right now, there’s some good to it, too. It’s easy to read, easy to follow, I do like how, in some chapters, every other paragraph starts with the same sentence (like the continuous “They were married”)…and I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t really remember what right now. 😀 But I won’t give up on her, I’m kinda thinking I chose the wrong book 😀 I still want to read “them“. Or maybe something else, as long as it’s better.
Now that I’ve finally finished it, I can’t say much has changed. I still think there’s too much petty drama. Plus, I think that Ms. Oates’s prose is a bit scattered, a bit “all over the place” – just like I this review is shaping up to be 😉 (for a proper review, there’s always NYT 😀 ). The narration follows (spoilers ahead 😛 ) Ariah – her first disastrous one day marriage, her second, seemingly happy one, but with the prospect of disaster looming upon her, and her life with her 3 children after Dirk Burnaby’s (her second husband) tragic death. Ever since the beginning, Ariah believes she is “doomed” and she feels sure that her husband will leave her eventually. Though a loving wife, she seems cold and aloof to others and she takes virtually no interest in her husband’s professional life (one example of a kind of attitude I just don’t get – no matter how hard I try.) Dirk, a wealthy Niagara Falls lawyer, is, on the other hand, very liberal (for the time, consider it all happens in the 50s-60s, in a rather conservative community) and has no problem with his wife giving piano lessons to neighbourhood children, or including her to any extent she would like in all aspects of his life – a chance which Ariah never takes. Dirk gets involved with a sort of a proto-environmentalist case, the Love Canal case, which starts consuming him more and more, as he realizes that he despises most of his old friends, that their actions are guided by mere financial interest, that they are corrupt and treacherous (he’s a bit of a male Erin Brockovitch, really 😉 ). In a way, he puts all his eggs in one basket – he gathers witnesses, reports, pictures, scientific data, a lot funded from his own pocket – and looses upon the first hearing, when the case gets dismissed. Looses all – as Ariah, a few days before the hearing, frightened by the bad mouthing Dirk gets, disappointed by the (in retrospect, false) rumors that he was having an affair with one of the plaintiffs and altogether hurt that he “went outside the family” throws him out of the house and out of the family’s life just a few days before trial (OK, maybe it’s just me, but at this point, I kinda wanted her dead. Gone. Vanished. Out of the picture 😀 ).
A couple of days after the verdict Dirk mysteriously dies – his car skids off the road and falls in the river. It is declared to be an accident – a masked way of saying suicide – when in fact, as will Ariah’s children learn, it was murder. Yes, the Burnaby children will grow with a sense of loss and emptiness, they will not be allowed to even mention the existence of a father (Chandler, the eldest, is the only one who remembers Dirk), until, as they grow up, they will all stumble, in different ways and to different degrees, upon the truth of their father’s demise. The Love Canal case is reopened in the 70s, this time with a stronger team of lawyers and in a more favorable climate – and by 1978 is registers some progress and successes. Dirk Burnaby is, now, a symbol, a foreseer, a revered figure of the environmental move and the novel ends with a memorial held in his honour in 1978, which the 3 Burnaby children and Ariah (who seems to have finally made her peace with him) attend.
Why I said scattered above? Because her writing flows, a bit like a river, but sometimes it bursts in unexpected (and, in my opinion, unnecessary) places. Even in the way the book is structured, it feels like she just spread bits and pieces and than tied them up in chapters. There’s logic in it all, no doubt about that, but…
One thing which I enjoyed – and the best thing about the book is Niagara itself – The River, The Falls, that play such important and defining roles in everyone’s lives. The magic – I would say dark magic – the voices that seem to call you from the deep (such as Juliette Burnaby heard them beckoning her to come to her father in the river) revealing your darkest wish, or your biggest secret. The Falls, that are filled with ghosts of all that found their end there, out of sheer accident – but mostly out of despair, the Falls that give birth to visions and local legends – they are a very powerful presence and the best character this book has 🙂
Almost forgot: Ionuca – heeeelp!! 😀 C’mon, I know you love Ms. Oates, tell me where I’m wrong and what to read to change my mind about her 😉