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The Day the Falls Stood Still

November 4, 2009

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
published by Voice August 25, 2009

The stone walls of Loretto Academy are so thick I can sit curled up on a windowsill, arms around the knees tucked beneath my chin … I have only to open a pair of shutters to take in my own private view of the Niagara. Beyond the hedge and gate marking the perimeter of the academy , and the steep descent leading to the wooded shore, I can see the upper river and the falls. Endless water plummets from a brink to the rocks below, like the careless who slip, like the stunters who fail, like the suicidal who leap. I nudge my attention downriver, to clouds of rising mist. In those clouds I have seen aberrations — flecks of shimmering silver, orbs of color a shade more intense than their surroundings. I have seen them more than once, and I have decided they are prayers, mine and everyone else’s, too. (pp. 5-6)

In 1915, seventeen-year-old Bess lives a comfortable life at boarding school, where the nuns nurture her love of books. However, her life drastically changes when her father loses his job. Then a horrifying tragedy shreds the religious faith which as always been an important part of her, and Bess begins a slippery journey on a new spiritual path.

As Bess copes with the disintegration of her life, as she knew it, the first world war has begun. Canada is swept up in pre-war fervor. Young men are being pressured to join the military, with no idea of the horrors they will face in European trenches.

In the midst of all this turmoil, Bess meets Tom Cole, a river man who makes his living by fishing and other less pleasant jobs, and there is an instant attraction. Tom has a special affinity for Niagara Falls, which he inherited from his grandfather, Fergus Cole. Fergus is loosely based on an actual historical figure, legendary Niagara river man William “Red” Hill. Tom can predict changes in the river and the falls, and he can sense when there is danger.

He also sees the flow of his beloved river and falls being leeched away by companies who are making their fortunes building electrical generators. While the growing availability of electric lighting and appliances makes life easier in many ways, these companies are assuring a future for themselves, during increasingly uncertain times, by creating a “need” for things that, until recently, people hadn’t even known existed.

Tom connects with Bess. Her upper middle-class family opposes her relationship with Tom, especially when Bess has a proposal from a young man from an affluent family. Yet as Bess copes with an unspeakable loss, her relationship with Tom blossoms.

This book is, at its heart, a love story. It’s a historical novel about World War I. It is also a study of the history of Niagara Falls, particularly on the Canadian side, strewn with actual bits of local color and history. All these layers are woven seamlessly together, and this author creates gorgeous prose. She also has a gift for storytelling. I found myself eager to pick up this novel every time I got the chance and reluctant to put it down.

Many thanks to Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea for this ARC which I won on a random drawing at her site.

See more reviews:
Darlene at Peeking Between the Pages — she also has the book trailer posted, along with links
Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea
Kailana at Historical Tapestry

Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit

Amy at The House of the Seven Tails
Ti at Book Chatter
The Tome Traveler’s Weblog
Julie at Booking Mama

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