Day the Falls Stood Still (Buchanan)

Book Reviews
Few first novels exhibit the mastery, maturity, and majesty of Buchanan’s riveting fictional debut, a heart-wrenching, soul-racking, spellbinding tale interwoven with guts, anguish, and glory guaranteed to remain in readers’ minds.
The Globe and Mail (Canada)

[The Day the Falls Stood Still] stands on its own elegant prose and the vibrant voice of its narrator.
USA Today

Set against the backdrop of WWI and Niagara Falls, this debut tells the story of young Bess Heath and her struggle to navigate a quickly modernizing world. A child of privilege, Bess sees her fortunes change when her father loses his job. Cast into poverty, her family disgraced, Bess tries to hold things together while her sister slips into depression, her father drinks and her mother withdraws. After another tragedy strikes, Bess finds comfort in the love of Tom Cole, a river man with a mysterious connection to the falls. Overcoming the deep privation of the war and their own limited means, the two begin building a life together and renew their commitment to each other and their family. Based loosely on the history of Niagara river man William “Red” Hill, the book incorporates mock newspaper articles with limited success, but does integrate some detailed depictions of domestic life and fascinating natural history into an otherwise uneventful romance.
Publishers Weekly

Buchanan's first novel illuminates the beginnings of hydroelectric power in Canada during World War I. Fortunes are made and lost on electricity supplied by Niagara Falls, and Bess's family suffers particularly—her father loses his job at the local electric powerhouse, and her sister Isabel loses both her rich fiancé and her life, drowning in the river. Bess and her mother turn to tailoring to make ends meet, and Bess continues with her work when her naturalist husband, Tom, goes off to fight. Returning from the war, Tom goes to work for the electric company to support the family, although he deplores the effect of the generators on the Niagara River. In the end, this conflict between the natural world and progress leads to tragedy. Verdict: Historical fiction readers will appreciate the excellent period detail, especially the depiction of the era's social mores, and the romance between Bess and Tom is also a high point. —Amy Ford, St. Mary's Cty. Lib., Lexington Park, MD
Library Journal

First novel offers a romantic take on Niagara Falls life in the early 20th century, complete with old photographs to buttress the nostalgic mood. In 1915, Bess Heath's father is fired as director of the Niagara Power Company and the family finances crumble. Her mother supports the family with dressmaking. Bess must leave her private school. Worst of all, Bess's sister Isabel is dumped by her fiance and sinks into a serious depression. Financial salvation seems at hand when Edward, the dull brother of Bess's best friend, comes courting. Isabel flirts outrageously, but Edward proposes to Bess. Under parental pressure she accepts, although she has already begun a shy romance with Tom. He is deemed inappropriate not only because he's working-class but because of the nature of his work; he's a river man who retrieves "floaters"-drowned bodies. Shortly before Bess's wedding, Isabel drowns herself. When Tom finds the body, he helps Bess hide Isabel's pregnancy. Propelled by grief and flaunting convention, Bess breaks off with Edward to marry Tom, who shortly thereafter goes off to World War I. These early scenes are the novel's most engrossing. Once Tom returns the book moves more quickly and shallowly. Tom recovers from his traumatic war experience by performing acts of bravery at the Falls. Although he takes a job at the Hydro-Electric Power Commission to support their growing family, he doesn't believe the progress electricity offers is worth the price to the environment and eventually quits to become an activist. Meanwhile, Bess and Tom's little boy Jesse is as drawn to the river as Tom. The spiritual connection Tom, Jesse and Bess feel to the river takes on mystical dimensions. After tragedy strikes, the uplifting ending has a decidedly religious tinge. Buchanan's prose is elegant, but sentimentality limits her achievement.
Kirkus Reviews

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