Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Joyce Carol Oates autographing The Falls after her reading at the Chicago Humanities Festival on Saturday, November 13, 2004.

Ed and I had a great time on our trip to Niagara Falls in October. The trees were at the peak of their fall color, and even though the weather was overcast and raining at times, it was an enjoyable visit. We stayed outside of Buffalo, about 20 minutes south of Lockport. The first day we were in the area, we drove up to Lockport and took pictures of the Erie Canal. We went through the little museum at Lockport, Niagara County's Historical Museum. We looked, but could find no mention of Joyce Carol Oates. We almost missed Millersport, which seemed to be just a crossroad on the way to Lockport.

The first day we spent at the falls we stayed on the American side. We walked over the foot bridge to Goat Island, where you can get right up next to the water. The power of the water was mesmerizing as it crashed over the drop off where the Niagara River pours into Lake Ontario. The clouds and the mist added to the allure of the beauty surrounding us. The next day the sun came out and we drove across to the Canadian side. The view from that side is magnificent, although not as up close and personal as the view from Goat Island. The mist was blowing the rain over the sidewalk and road running along the river, like rain. The sun was streaming through it to make a double rainbow.

In contrast to this overwhelming beauty at the falls is the outlying area, the industrial areas around the city of Niagara Falls and the city of Buffalo. JCO describes this so accurately in The Falls. After reading The Falls earlier this fall, I had a yearning to see this marvel for myself, as well as the Millersport/Lockport area that is present in so many JCO stories. The landscape was very much as I expected it to be from my reading. It reminded me of the rural areas in southern Illinois where I grew up, without the great lakes and the magnificent falls, of course.

Last weekend, we drove up to Chicago to see Ms. Oates read from The Falls at the Chicago Humanities Festival. She introduced the book and the characters and then read from the portion where Dirk meets Nina Olshaker and her daughter and drives them to their home in the subdivision near the contaminated Love Canal. She told us that she had not read this section before, and her reading was slightly halting as if reading it for the first time. She paused from time to time to elaborate on different aspects of the passage, which made it feel more personal than it might otherwise have. After the reading she signed books brought up by the audience. When I had my opportunity to speak to her, I wanted to ask her about the woman in black, in the cemetery. She seemed to agree that the woman in black was Nina Olshaker, but when I look back I can see that she did not really answer me because of her concern about all the people in line. She explained that she could not personalize the autographs anymore because of the number of people waiting. She was very gracious and seemed quite practiced at moving people through the line.

J G Ward