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“The Day the Falls Stood Still” by Cathy Marie Buchanan is an historical novel about the hydro-electric power plants that sprang up around Niagara
Falls in the early 1900s.
The author is wonderful at describing the majesty and power of the falls. Her hero, Tom Cole, is based loosely on a true-life river man who loved the natural flow of the river and feared what all the pumps and machinery were doing to the environment.
Bess is a 17-year-old girl, a student at a local girls school, when the novel begins. She and her sister, Isabelle, have every reason to picture a glorious life waiting for them. They live in a lovely house with prosperous, loving parents. They have the beautiful clothes refined girls are supposed to have. Then their father loses his job and the bright future falls apart.
There were not so many options for young girls in those days and the author aptly describes their despair. The girls’ mother falls back to being a seamstresses again, but that is not enough to support the family. Their father is drinking. It was an era when refined girls were married off to good families. No scandal of any kind could come with them. It falls to Bess to save the family. The slow but kind brother of her best friend is about to propose. Everyone wants the match. She would see her best friend every day. Her parents would not have to sells their house. Andrew would support her well. But Bess does not love him. She loves Tom Cole.
There are several parallel stories in this novel. In each case someone has to decide whether to follow what the heart dictates or do what is best for loved ones – not an easy choice in some cases.
In the meantime the main character of the novel, the falls themselves, is slowly losing water; the marsh heron are dying, and the river level receding. But people also need jobs and electricity. Again a choice between choosing the romantic or the practical is necessary – and sometimes there is no compromise that will work.