REVIEWED BY ELLEN SHAPIRO
From its thunderous opening pages, Oates's 48th novel is as mesmerizing and turbulent as its Niagara Falls locale. In 1950 Ariah Erskine's husband flees their hotel after a disastrous wedding night and throws himself into the roiling waters. A stunned Ariah, accompanied by local lawyer Dirk Burnaby, keeps vigil until the body surfaces. Though she believes she has been damned by God, Ariah marries Dirk and has three children, and her past—and fear of being abandoned again—fade away. But when Dirk becomes obsessed with helping a desperate mother—one of the first victims of poisonous dumping at the infamous Love Canal—Ariah's unhinged jealousy turns her marriage as toxic as the chemicals leeching into Niagara's soil.
Long known for her gothic inclinations, Oates continues her unflinching look at the dark side. But she also infuses the narrative with unexpected subtlety. When the adult Burnaby children uncover corrosive family secrets 15 years later, this immensely satisfying novel doesn't deny them the hope of redemption.