Monday, November 22, 2010
Format: Voice (2009), Hardcover, 320 pages; also in audio - 11.5 hours
Narrator: Karen White
Characters: Bess Heath, Isabel Heath, Tom Cole
Subject: Niagara Falls, hydroelectric power, dressmaking
Setting: Ontario Canada
Genre: historical fiction
Source:print- review copy from the publisher; audio - public library download
I'm almost ashamed at how long it has taken me to get to this well-written, exciting and educational book. The author, who grew up in the town depicted in the book- the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, has done her research, and gives us a work of historical fiction in which she takes real characters, re-names them, and then gives us a beautiful love story woven into historical narrative about the early harnessing of the power of the Falls for hydroelectric power.
The main character Bess Heath, had a very privileged upbringing but finds herself deprived of many creature comforts when her father is fired from his job, the servants are let go, she is unable to continue to attend her private girls; boarding school, and her mother is forced to take in sewing to support them.
Set during World War I, with flashbacks to earlier headlines from the Falls (late 1800's) Buchanan gives us fully fleshed out characters who endure the hardships of separation, suicide, unemployment, and class discrimination. Married on her 18th birthday against the wishes of her parents, Bess watches as her husband Tom Cole goes off to fight the Great War. He is gone for more than three years, and returns to meet the son who would follow his father as "the river man", amid a post-war economy with few available jobs. This could have become a trite 'love at first site' story but instead we get a powerful tale of young love, early environmental concerns, some interesting sidebars on dressmaking and historically based episodes of the life of the river men.
In addition to a great story the book is illustrated with actual photographs of the period. For a reader who has not been to the Falls, the pictures are a great addition to understanding the story. A first-rate read.