The Day the Falls Stood Still

Written by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Bess Heath is in her next to last year at the Loretto Academy in Niagara Falls in 1915 when her father loses his job as the director of the Niagara Power Company. Her life, previously one of ease and comfort, changes almost overnight. She won’t be able to return for her senior year, and when she slips away from the school at night, with only her mother to help carry her bulky trunk on the trolley home, the man who offers to assist them will propel the change in her life. He is Tom Cole, a workingman with great knowledge of Niagara Falls, who is obviously not of her social class. While she is drawn to him, her mother battles the attraction. At home, her family life seems to be splintering in front of her eyes. Bess helps her mother, who has had to start working again as a seamstress, and also tries to cajole her older sister, Isabel, back to health. She is torn between the social connections her mother seeks for her, and her feelings for Tom.

This compelling story is set against the backdrop of the falls and the effect that the emerging hydroelectric power plants are having on them. Should the greed of the business owners and their persuasion of the populace to embrace electrical gadgets be allowed to radically change nature? Readers will learn fascinating details of the river and the falls, both through Tom’s expertise and the newspaper articles sprinkled through the book, which illuminate the action. The novel, the author’s first, was inspired by the life of life of an actual, legendary, Niagara riverman. It is a novel to savor.