In The Day the Falls Stood Still, Bess Heath has returned home from boarding school to find her family in near shambles. Her father has lost his job and disappears for hours at a time, her mother is forced to take in sewing to support the family, and her sister Isabel is despondent after having her heart broken. In a chance encounter on her way home, Bess meets a young man who will change her life and have her torn between her family's wishes and her own desires.
I absolutely adored this book. It's hard to believe it's Buchanan's first novel. The story was emotional, intelligent, stunning and beautifully written. I didn't feel like I was just reading about the past; I felt like I was actually there. The words and phrases, the characters actions, the descriptions of the surroundings, the fashions at the time; everything about the book pulled me back in time.
Even though the book is billed as an "epic love story", it's not at all gushy or sappy. Buchanan is reserved in presenting the obvious attraction and blossoming romance between Bess and Tom. Besides, there's so much more to the book than the love story between two people. It's about the love for the river and falls; their power and grandeur; the history of the area; war on the home front; the life of a young woman during that time; the controversy and division between those who appreciate the river as it is and those who seek to use it for their own gain.
I especially loved that Buchanan used fictitious newspaper articles to tell the story of Fergus Cole, the legendary riverman and Tom Cole's grandfather. These are scattered throughout the book and were a very nice way to introduce past events into the story. I also loved that she included some antique photographs of the Niagara Falls area and inhabitants. These added to the sensation that I was a participant in the story rather just an observer or reading about it afterwards.
I've been a prairies girl all my life and know very little about Niagara Falls area or its history. I appreciated how the information about the falls was incorporated into the story, particularly the part about the power companies and their use of the river. I had once read that the amount of water going over the falls was a fraction of what it could be, but I didn't know why. Now I do.
As emotional as the ending was, I wasn't moved to tears. Of course I was sad, but I knew that a destiny had been fulfilled and not much could change that. The ending stayed true to the story and characters and I just couldn't see it ending any other way. That's not to say that I knew what was going to happen.
This book is filled with beautiful passages. I couldn't possibly list them all here. So for now, here's a sentence that I can relate to. I'd list it among my favourites. From page 53: "It seems a cruel trick that time contracts when you want to savor it and expands insatiably when you do not."
The author's note at the back of the book contains lots of information about the real life riverman William "Red" Hill. Fascinating stuff that's definitely worth the read.
Highly recommended. This book is definitely one of my all-time favourites. I already know it's going to make the list of "Daisy's Best of 2010". So look for it in that post at the end of the year. I look forward to more works from this author.
For more information about this book, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.
For more information about the author and other interesting stuff, please visit Cathy Buchanan's website.
I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.
The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan, HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9781554683277(Trade Paperback), 298p.