The Day the Falls Stood Still
1915, Niagara Falls, Canada. This carefully crafted story illuminates both the pre-war status quo – a world where well-brought-up young ladies, like Bess Heath, are expected to make a good marriage, and where the classes don’t mix socially – and a world in flux, where thousands of young Canadian men die in the killing fields of Flanders, and where the aftermath of war will be hardship and unemployment. Through this, a third strand is woven: when does sensible use of a natural resource, such as water, become exploitation?
Bess’s emotional journey begins when her father loses his job and she is forced to leave school and use her sewing skills to help keep the family afloat. Her elder sister, Isabel, is in a worryingly fragile state and can’t help. Their mother hopes that Bess will make a suitable marriage. But when Bess meets the rugged, good-looking riverman, Tom Cole, a man way beneath her socially, her life is changed forever.
Tom is passionately concerned about what effect Mr Beck’s Ontario Power Company’s drive to generate more and more electricity is having on the river. Tom charts the gradual water level drop and is desperate to stop the Niagara’s exploitation. There are no easy answers; in post-war Canada, jobs are desperately needed and the power company is offering employment. When Mr Beck offers Tom a much-needed job, both he and Bess have some difficult decisions to make.
I have to be honest and say that this book didn’t do it for me. Yes, it’s well written, and the Niagara Falls background is unusual and interesting, but it never really engaged me, partly because it was written from an emotional distance but also because I could predict the ending. However, I am just one reader; others may feel differently.