The Day The Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Published August 2009 by Voice
Source: borrowed from a friend
It's 1915 and 17-year-old Bess Heath is living a pampered life: her father is the director of the Niagra Power Company, her sister, Isabel, is engaged to marry the most eligible young man around, and Bess is finishing up her next to last year at a boarding school for the wealthy.
Until her father makes a catastrophic investment mistake that costs him his fortune. To make things even worse, he has convinced a number of other men to join him in the investment. When they lose their money as well, the family is left not only penniless, but friendless as well. Bess' father leaves everyday to begin another day of drinking, Isabel's fiance has broken things of leaving Isabel a mere shadow of the person she was, and Bess' mother must now take on dress making to try to keep things together.
The only bright spot in Bess' life is Tom Cole, a young man she met on the trolley car platform the day she left school. Tom lives in a room in a seedy hotel, lives off the river and has an ability to "read" the river. Despite everything that is going on in Bess' family, Tom is still seen as being well below her and any time she spends with him is must be done secretly. Publishers Weekly calls the romance between the two "uneventful." I found it to very realistic.
When an old family friend suddenly becomes interested in Bess and asks her to marry him, her parents are thrilled; they see the chance to redeem the family but Bess is less than thrilled when she makes the decision to put her family ahead of her own desires.
And here is where I had to make a decision. At this point, there is about half of the book left. But to tell you more, I would have to reveal a major spoiler. And I just can't make myself do it. You'll just have to trust me when I tell you that the story is only just beginning for Bess at this point. In the eight years of this book, Bess will become a working girl, a wife and a mother.
There is so much going on in this book. Buchanan has woven a love story into a novel that deals with the issues of family obligation, class structure, betrayal, forgiveness, war, politics, and nature versus progress. So many times when an author tries to include so much in a story it can feel forced and contrived but I never felt that way about this book. Buchanan has clearly done her research about the history of Niagra Falls and does a splendid job of blending that history into the story.
Because I had heard good things about this book, and because it sounded so interesting, I recommended it to my book club. So when I started it, I was a bit nervous. What if I didn't like it and had foisted it off on everyone else? My book club is scheduled to meet to discuss this in two weeks so I don't know yet what the rest of the group will think of the book. I'm so hoping that they will enjoy it as much as I did.