Title: The Day the Falls Stood Still
Author: Cathy Marie Buchanan
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Summary: Steeped in the intriguing history of Niagara Falls, The Day the Falls Stood Still is an epic love story 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 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.
My thoughts: The Day the Falls Stood Still is a beautifully written, captivating story about the power of love, being true to yourself and the importance of relationships. Spirituality and nature are strong themes that run through the story. I read this book slowly and carefully because I was enjoying it so much. When I finished, I went back and read parts of it again. This book reaches out and draws you in. The story seems simple and straight-forward at first but as you read you will realize there is much more going on, all revolving around the character of Bess Heath, the main character and the narrator of the book.
It's taken me an embarrassingly long time to write this review. Having read many excellent reviews, I thought I would try to approach it from a different angle. Thinking about the characters, I kept coming back to Bess, easily my favorite. Feeling like I knew Bess and understood her, it is through her I wish to approach this. She is a strong and complex young woman, with a very practical side, not given to flights of fancy or fits of passion even though she believes in prayer and miracles. She endures two major life tragedies close together at the young age of seventeen. They seem to make her stronger and more focused, giving her a better understanding of herself and what she wants out of life. After learning that her father lost his job, Bess barely takes the time to consider the consequences before pitching in, symbolically at first, by helping her mother lug a trunk home on the trolley. The "real" pitching in comes later.
Bess' relationship with her mother is respectful but not all warm and cozy. They seem very similar in that they are both practical and unwilling to show emotion, keeping their feelings bottled up. They easily aggravate each other and though Bess is angry at her, she does as her mother asks as best she can, even when it pains her. There's a lot of responsibility on Bess's shoulders. She is expected to care for her older sister, Isabel, after she has taken to her bed following changes in social circumstance to her and her family. Isabel is the beautiful, popular sister, adored by the girls at school yet often full of self-doubt and confusion. Bess and Isabel are very close and it is hard for Bess to see her sister looking ill. Bess misses Isabel's fun-loving personality and the sound of her laughter. Bess also assists her mother with dressmaking, now the sole source of family income. Bess' life has changed dramatically in only a year, but aside from a few tears shed in private, she refuses to show any signs that she and her family are downcast.
The foremost male character in the story, Tom, is the major source of disagreement between Bess and her mother. Bess not caring that Tom is poor, considered "beneath them" (as Isabel says), while the family believes she can "do better" and wants her to help improve the family's situation. Bess is attracted to Tom from the moment she passes him on the road, describing his eyes as "...like the Niagara River: green, full of vigor, captivatingly so." The Niagara river is a source of strength for Bess, she gets her faith from the river and remembers well the stories her father told about the river when she was a young girl. The river sustains her and she feels that same strength and connection to Tom. In fact, it is in Tom that Bess sees the river. So Bess isn't surprised when she learns of Tom's ancestral connections and when he tells her that he understands the river. She considers it the same as the prayers she sees in the rising mist above the river. It's all the mystery and magic that is God for Bess.
However, a tragedy causes Bess to no longer believe in the magic, thinking of her father's words, that intuition can be explained. Tom tells her someday she'll know but she doesn't believe him. Still, being with him is the only thing that sustains her, and she doesn't care what other people think. Hard work doesn't scare her but being without the happiness he brings her does.
Life with Tom has its hardships so Bess needs to rely on her strength, practicality, creativity and intelligence. Their love for each other does not preclude them from having to make difficult choices at times but it will guide them. And they have the river. Whether to preserve it, leave it alone, or harness its power is an issue that they will struggle over. There will come a time when Bess will have to decide what's more important, her family's well-being or Tom's principles and she will always wonder if she made the right decision at the time.
The Day the Falls Stood Still is a love story in several different respects. It is filled with beautiful imagery, rich historical details and references to real events involving the Niagara River. Bess' inspiring and captivating story is connected to all of these things and illustrates how important it is to be true to yourself, to love your family and friends and to respect nature. Cathy Marie Buchanan has written a fantastic novel that should be read slowly, enjoyed completely and cherished for years to come.