Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors, but even great authors can write a clunker. It took me two weeks to trudge through The Falls and even with that, I probably wouldn't have read it so fast, if I had not been stuck home sick.
As always, Oates writes beautiful, lyrical passages. Technically, there is nothing wrong with this novel. It has well developed characters and a clear story arc. Technically, all of the components are there.
However, it's painfully dull. Painfully dull and exceedingly long. For a book that contains suicide and murder, it is slow going. I think the problem is that the book is confused. It's trying to be plot driven, when it's clearly character driven. It's really a character sketch of the main character Ariah Erskine, who tragically loses two husbands and as a young widow, is left to raise her three children.
The book is far too big in scope and as a consequence, didn't allow me to connect with the characters. In particular, the last section of the book that dedicates a chapter to each of Ariah's grown children, showing how their upbringing was key to their development. The book has a running theme of "Nature Vs. Nurture". The problem being, the children were minor characters throughout much of the book and there was never an opportunity to connect with them.
Ariah reminded me a bit too much of the negative aspects of my own mom, who was also a widow due to a tragic circumstance. I guess Oates nailed it here, but it didn't make me like or connect with Ariah. It made me mildly uncomfortable, mostly with how Ariah refused to talk about the father and the whole situation was veiled in mystery. If the story had been told through the children's point of view, it may have been easier to connect.
I hope that the next Oates novel I pick up is far more entertaining and affecting.