This was my first foray into the literary world of author Joyce Carol Oates. I visited Niagara Falls once a long time ago and remember the subject of Love Canal, so I thought that this would be a good novel to read. I have thus discovered I am not at all a fan of her writing style.
All that aside, I'm not sure I could identify with much of what the characters did. The insufferable, bitchy Ariah Burnaby was one whom I would have gladly pushed over the Falls myself if given the opportunity. The bitterness and fear she instilled in her children was unforgivable. Her sense of "I care for you/I don't care for you" feelings towards them left me feeling sorry for her children and it was a wonder they ever spoke to her again.
Although I do admit, I think Dirk was neglecting his own family during the course of the trial. But Ariah was already a woman driven to desperation and drama way before that. In a way I was expecting Oates to spend much more time on the history and ramifications of the Love Canal Disaster. But as much as Ariah tried to separate herself from the tragedy and convince herself she was of a higher standard than many of those 'low income people,' Love Canal came to her door and thus her husband was, although indirectly, a casualty of it.
As a result, the ending, although long-overdue, was predictable (the link with Bud and Juliet and his father) and rushed. In contrast, the hostage situation was so drawn out and long I easily skipped whole paragraphs, thinking aloud "Get it over with, already!!"
I also found the Lady in Black character totally ridiculous, especially her encounter with Royall. If we are to assume she is the Lois Gibbs character of this story (the central activist in the Love Canal case), then how on earth would she have the energy, interest in an affair? Why would she then disappear into obscurity in the end? If the woman was as passionate about her cause as Ms. Gibbs was, in reality, she didn't have time enough for her own husband (thus their real life divorce) and her total attention to Love Canal and saving her children.
I was equally surprised and disappointed with the number of typos and grammatical errors in Oates' book. I would think someone of her caliber would have a good editor or spell check on her computer. Some may think it's a big nitpick, but when you're reading along full steam and suddenly come across someone's name spelled wrong or a word accidentally repeated, it makes you stop and go "Wha...??" I returned this book back to the library faster than you could say "Shame, shame. Burnaby's the name!"