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The Day the Falls Stood Still ~ Cathy Marie Buchanan

August 16, 2009

  • Genre: Adult Fiction

    Publisher: Hyperion Books

    320 pages

    ISBN: 9781401340971

    We live in an age where nearly all of our threats are human. Nature has no recourse against man-made factories, bridges, levees, and weapons. We are safe. We are secure. In the middle-north of the country, though, nestled between the United States and Canada is a reminder that we are human but only human. When I was a little kid I fell in love with Gordon Lightfoot’s Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. There is something helplessly beautiful and tragic about the power and majesty evoked by lore surrounding the Great Lakes basin.

    While not as factual as Lightfoot’s recount, Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Day the Falls Stood Still succeeds in capturing the breathtaking spirit of the rivers and lakes that contain the unshakable spirit in the heart of the north. What begins as a typical society girl’s junior year at a local prep school on the Canadian side of the falls, becomes a heart wrenching love story between man and woman but also between mankind and the river.

    Set in the early to mid twentieth century, the story is told through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Bess Heath, the second and youngest daughter of a man who, prior to the beginning of the story, has been a social and financial success in the hydro-electric efforts in town. Immediately before Bess returns home for the summer, her father runs into a bit of trouble when a prediction fails to bring success to his fellow businessmen. He is let go from the industry and sets in motion a drama that rolls forward like a stack of dominoes. Caught in the inevitable social recourse of her parents’ plummeting social stature Bess and her sister Isabel are left to wonder what their glitzy upbringing has prepared them for and where to turn.

    Amidst the downfall of the industrial elite, there is a softer voice. The voice of the river slips quietly through town, in the form of Thomas Cole, grandson of a famous river man who was more river than man, metaphysically and physically. In a melding of two worlds, Bess and Tom find their lives intertwined in ways that challenge both the unstoppable progress of the hydro era and the fading grandeur of the water that is their livelihood.

    To say that this is a historical fiction romance is to completely miss the point. There is history, steeped in incredible drama, which found me at my computer in the wee hours of the morning, searching for more tidbits about the period. And, of course, there is the love story, both believable and magical. However, those two things are not the elements that drive this book. It is Buchanan’s complete dedication to inviting her readers to fall in love with the falls, to imagine themselves there, wading waist deep in the stories, the tragedy and the beauty.

    The story reads a good deal like Steinbeck’s more detailed works in its straightforward prose but also carries the depth and honest crafting of characters that one would expect to find in East of Eden or Grapes of Wrath. Even though it’s a small book, it carries the epic weight of something much heavier. The Day the Falls Stood Still is an absolutely stunning debut and I am waiting at the edge of my seat to read more by Buchanan.

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  • 9 Comments leave one →
    1. August 16, 2009 12:16 pm

      This is a lovely review. I like that the voice of the river takes the form of one of the characters.

    2. August 16, 2009 1:17 pm

      Great review! I also felt that the river was sort of a character on its own, speaking through Tom (and before through his grandfather). I loved that the book evoked the beauty of the falls, even though I had never been there. Really, there is a lot to love here.

    3. August 16, 2009 4:59 pm

      I won this from LibraryThing! Very excited now!!

    4. stacybuckeye permalink
      August 17, 2009 12:52 am

      Very nice review! Since I live not too far from a Great Lake I’ll have to check it out!

      • iwriteinbooks permalink*
        August 20, 2009 9:16 am

        You should, Stacey. I’m interested to see what people think of it. The lakes have always been an obsession for me even though I lived in New England growing up and only went to Niagra once when I was little. there’s something so compelling about them.

    5. August 20, 2009 9:12 am

      Nice review. I am reading this one for September, so I am looking forward to it. I have been to Niagra Falls and it really does have a voice all its own.

      • iwriteinbooks permalink*
        August 20, 2009 9:16 am

        I can’t wait till everyone reads it. Sometimes my favorites aren’t always crowd pleasers but this one is really sweet.

    6. Calista Herrmann permalink
      August 20, 2009 5:20 pm

      A gem of a book. I grew up in Niagara Falls and every moment I could (especially the summers my job overlooked the Canadian brink), I would stare out to the falls and take in its tender beauty and brute strength. Buchanan is able to capture these two contrasting facets all the while giving a page turning story with believable characters, steeped in history of the area. It is a book that has ‘stayed with me’. Although I no longer live in the area, I can’t wait to get back to feel the river, the Falls, Bess, Isabel and Tom. A very worthwhile read!

    7. September 6, 2009 2:50 pm

      Very nice review. Every review I have seen for this book is good. I like that the river and the Falls play a huge roll in this historical love story. I’ll be doing some online research too to find out more about the area. It is fascinating and something I don’t know much about.

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