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The Falls

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  9,965 ratings  ·  940 reviews
It is 1950 and, after a disastrous honeymoon night, Ariah Erskine's young husband throws himself into the roaring waters of Niagara Falls. Ariah, "the Widow Bride of the Falls," begins a relentless seven-day vigil in the mist, waiting for his body to be found. At her side is confirmed bachelor and pillar of the community Dirk Burnaby, who is unexpectedly drawn to this plai ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published August 2nd 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published 2004)
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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 ·  9,965 ratings  ·  940 reviews

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mark monday
May 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The terrible, wonderful appeal of a raging waterfall: you can cross above it, brave acrobat... you can lose yourself in it, angst and sadness begone, your body falling into something greater than the cares that weigh you down... you can wait beside it, a spectral vision of mourning and tragedy, a local icon for tourists to gape at, waiting for that body, waiting for the falls to rebirth its lonely suicide as it always eventually will... you can live next to it, next to its tamer parts, the water ...more
Nov 23, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: nobody
I read The Falls for book club. I was looking forward to reading it, given its roots in historical events and my past reading of her novel, We Were the Mulvaneys. The Falls was, hands down, the worst novel I have read for years. If I could, I would give it 1/4 of a star. The first few hundred pages are horrid: adjective after adjective describing nothing. The characters are boring, generally unbelievable, and have no depth. To her credit, Joyce Carol Oates offers the reader moments of promise: d ...more
Jul 21, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The beginning of this book mesmerized me much as the very Falls described here by Oates. For 120 pages, the book was just shy of glued to my hand, and I could not put it down.

Then, for the next 200 pages, I could barely pick it back up, to continue. By the mid-300s, I was hoping there would be a chemical explosion at one of the factories and all of the characters would die, putting me out of my misery.

I had never before read Joyce Carol Oates, so I don't know if this inconsistency is typical, o
Ron Charles
Sep 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You can't help pitying the people who show up in the novels of Joyce Carol Oates. From the first page, you sense that they're going to be known to death, literally splayed by her insight. And before you realize it, she's done the same thing to us. For 40 years, she's coyly enticed us with the gothic details of ordinary life and then - when it's too late - pinned us on the sharp point of her wisdom.

I read "The Falls," her latest novel, in what seemed like one held breath. Set around Niagara, the
Jennifer Odza
Apr 27, 2010 rated it did not like it
This book was given to me as a gift, otherwise I would have never had it in my home, especially after reading "We Were the Mulvaneys" which I found to be an equally horrible read. I felt a little compelled to read this because it is set in the Niagra area, where I have visited many times.

There are two main problems with this book, and they permeate the book unfortunately. The first is that Oates' characters are not in any way genuine. Their reactions, motivations, what they say and do all ring f
Aug 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
JCO is one of those writers you either love or hate. I happen to love most everything she does; "The Falls" is no exception, although I really started to get bored with her story set-up. Once she finally got the ball rolling (about 60 pages into it) it was cinematic in scope and really ranks high among her best works. Set in the 40's through the 70's in (duh) Niagara Falls, NY, "The Falls" describes the falls' eerie, almost preternatural effect on a family, practically destroying it. I found mys ...more
Aug 29, 2009 rated it did not like it
My first JCO book and possibly my last. Some great ideas and stunning imagery, but The Falls got on my nerves pretty fast. Oates' pen tends to linger for pages (and pages and pages)on events that other writers would condense into one or two sentences. In particular, the play-by-play on hotel staff handling a woman whose husband just threw himself into Niagara Falls was excruciating. That Oates intermittently punctuates her descriptions by italicizing the mostly cliched inner thoughts of her char ...more
Feb 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book follows the life of a woman haunted by the rejection of her first spouse and her eternal fear that she will be rejected by anyone who is drawn into her circle of life. Ariah lives her life almost as a fugitive, constantly looking over her shoulder, reading into things said as proof that she is unworthy of affection. She becomes brittle and nearly unapproachable. By protecting herself, she seems to live life in the shadows, barely participating, but an influence nonetheless.
Feb 26, 2021 rated it liked it
I've read a few novels by Joyce Carol Oates and they are quite a mixed bag for me. Sometimes I really likes her books and sometimes not as much. This one was okay, agree with some people that it was to long. Nothing really stands out in this novel, didn't love the characters but the writing waa decent, nothing spectacular, but decent. Will probably read more books by her ...more
Graham Wilhauk
Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'll say that this sat with me well enough that I can give it a 4 star rating. It was really good and it was the second JCO book I've ever read. It may not be her best, but it is a strong novel. Take yet another 4 stars from me, JCO.

I am giving this one a 4 out of 5 stars.


This was good, but after ADORING "We Were the Mulvaneys" by Joyce Carol Oates, I wanted this one to be a bit better than it was. I was really close at one point to giving this a 4 out of 5 stars. The begi
Feb 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The woman in black intrigues me. When I read The Falls, I thought she was Nina Olshaker, recognizing Dirk in Royall, making love to Royall as she had not been able to do with his father. On the other hand, the scene in the cemetery is eerie and unreal enough to make a case for her being a phantom. Her diction reminded me of Claudine, but Claudine would have been much older and never would have worn those clothes, and her hair was blond, not black, and she was always impeccably coiffed and never ...more
Dec 05, 2010 rated it it was ok
So much book and so little story! Pages and pages and pages of words that lead nowhere. Characters that only the Author could love (or even like).
The history of the Love Canal lawsuit was interesting and that part of the story elevated the rating of this book. One feels for Ariah's children...stuck with a crazy, nerotic, insane mother. These are the only two elements of this book that evoke any feeling or reaction at all.
Ariah! Here's a woman who should have stayed at home with her Pastor fathe
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Oates fans, those liking realisitc stories, tragic stories
Recommended to Henrik by: Christina Stind Rosendahl
Shelves: thriller, realism
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 07, 2007 rated it liked it
The Falls was my first ever Joyce Carol Oates novel. I've read a few of her stories over the years, though none of them particularly stand out in my mind. I have vague but admiring memories of what is probably her most famous short story, frequently anthologized, called "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" I know she's considered something of an icon in the fiction world, so I took that into this experience, expecting what's generally called "literary fiction," and expecting it to be well ...more
Oct 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
This was my second Joyce Carol Oates after reading We Were the Mulvaneys. I didn't enjoy this one as much, but it's still well worth reading. I lived in the Buffalo Niagara area for 12 years, so I enjoyed all of the local color in this novel. In addition, a good deal of this story concerns the very early developments in the Love Canal case. I took a sociology class in college from a professor who wrote a book about the homeowner's group that formed in the wake of the lawsuits from a sociological ...more
Mar 16, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joyce Carol Oates has become quite a name in the fiction world. I thought it was high time that I read one of her works. Unfortunately, my first foray was The Falls. Neither the characters, plot, nor writing left me particularly enthralled. Nevertheless it was a readable novel, something to occupy my time. The main character is Ariah who becomes a widow on her honeymoon when her husband commits suicide by jumping in to Niagara Falls. Through this misfortune another man becomes obsessed with her. ...more
Ariah Burnaby is a conundrum. Not just to those around her but to me after hundreds of pages. Rarely have I spent so much time reading about a character and depart at the end feeling that I never got to really know them. Still, I very much enjoyed this book. I kept wanting to understand or see if she'd ever divulge something to explain it all. She didn't. To the end, she was ever Ariah. They sympathy I felt for her in the beginning was stripped away as the story moves along & her children, Chand ...more
Sep 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What can I say about Joyce Carol Oates? Her ability to tackle just about any genre continues to amaze me with each new book. Take, for example, the Falls, which begins as a sort of modern Greek Tragedy, before seamlessly transitioning into a ravishing romance, and then (later) a legal thriller that reads like a combination of Silent Spring and A Civil Action. While the themes in The Falls aren't as potent as those found in Foxfire, they're still well worth the four-hundred-plus pages Oates takes ...more
Apr 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm sad to have finished The Falls! Joyce Carol Oates is a genius- otherwise she could not have intertwined such deep fascinating characters into several (or more) poignant themes seamlessly. I've been told her work can be inconsistent from novel to novel, but I was for in the first 30 pages. The only minor complaint about the book I may have is that it seemed to slow a bit at the end. However, I was still left wanting more. I think I have a new one for my top ten list. I love a book that makes ...more
Sep 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
This was such a wonderful book-- I loved how Oates wrapped the Love Canal story into the lives of these characters.

The book is told during three time periods-- my favorite is the first but taken as a whole, it was still a rewarding read.
Dec 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, read-2010
I was disappointed in this Oates novel. Too much description going nowhere a lot of the time ~ the first few chapters the worst. Not like her other work. The most interesting element of the book was about the Love Canal case.
Jan 26, 2020 rated it liked it
"The Falls" is an expertly crafted plate of liver and onions, unappetizing despite the skill it took to prepare.

This is the second (very long) Joyce Carol Oates book I have disliked. The author is so clearly talented, but her work so far has left me cold.
Ron Christiansen
Jul 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical, fiction
As always with Oates, it's EPIC and sometimes overwhelming. I struggled to engage about 2/3s through where the focus completely shifts to the children but I kept on eventually warming to the long view of this family's history. Her characters resonate and her meta-family history is intriguingly vast and nuanced. ...more
Sep 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
A tale whose theme is resurgent in this age where industrial pollution and climate change are high on everyone’s mind. Niagara Falls in the ‘60’s may have been the Love Capital of America but it was also the home of Love Canal, the most polluted industrial site that erupted and exposed the evil underbelly of crony capitalism.

And yet this novel begins (and ends) as a love story: a young headstrong woman, Ariah Erskine, and her pastor husband who is hiding the secret of his sexuality go to the Fal
Jun 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Joyce Carol Oates expertly takes cultural icons and important events and builds novels around them that seem vividly real--as they could very well be.

The Falls is actually several stories all wrapped into one novel. First, we meet Ariah Erksine, a newlywed whose husband commits suicide the morning after their wedding night by getting up early, racing to the falls, and plunging in. This is the strange event that gets the novel going. JCO is very good at this; many of her novels begin with events
Kathleen Valentine
Mar 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I thought this was an absolutely astonishing story. The writing is deep, and, though there were many times when I thought it seemed to go on a bit, I found myself still caught up in the rhythm of her astonishing prose. The central character, Ariah, is not a very likable character. On the first night of her honeymoon in Niagara Falls in the early 1950s, her new husband leaves their bed, walks to the Falls and throws himself over. Ariah finds the suicide note h left but destroys it without telling ...more
Aug 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book met my standard for keeping me engrossed on the subway. Oates is certainly an engaging writer, with a flair for Gothic excess (sex in a graveyard, forsooth). When I saw the story was to be multi-generational, I hoped for a more robust pattern, perhaps along the lines of Wuthering Heights, where the second generation, though repeating some of the happenings of the first generation, has a better outcome. But aside from the said graveyard sex, where the son has a bizarre sexual encounter ...more
Oct 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
I've read some complaints about this book as being "over-written" and "boring" with "hard-to-like characters" - and while I can see where these folks are coming from - this is part of what I like about JCO. That she creates a complete & believable world with flawed characters, (who sometimes think in cliche, even - another complaint I read). I enjoy all the details, how JCO creates an image I can actually see. Contrary to what someone in another review complained about, I think it was important ...more
Feb 27, 2018 added it
Joyce Carol Oates wears me out and this book is no exception. Not only is this this the same Oatsian theme as always, a relatively happy family - none of her families are without problems to begin with - is destroyed by a catastrophic event, but it's set in upstate New York, which is not exactly Thomas Hardy's Wessex. (There is a slight parallel here, though; just as the woods have some protagonism in "The Woodlanders", Niagara Falls exerts a strong influence in this novel.) All of the typical O ...more
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure ...more

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