As you can tell from my review of The Day the Falls Stood Still, I loved it and was tickled pink to be able to able to ask author Cathy Buchanan a few questions about the novel. Published in Canada by HarperCollins, the book is available at book stores or for purchase online. I strongly suggest you do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.
Colleen: The Day the Falls Stood Still takes place in and around Niagara Falls, and the falls themselves can be said to be one of the main characters of the book. As someone who grew up and writes about the falls, do you ever get used to their awe?
Cathy: I once attended a wedding reception at Queen Victoria Park Restaurant, overlooking the falls, and was taken aback when the out-of-towners spontaneously stood up and applauded when the floodlights were turned on, lighting up the falls. My surprise, I think, came more from being unaccustomed to the reaction of people seeing Niagara Falls for the first time than from having grown immune to the beauty of my own backyard. This moment came during my first years living away from Niagara Falls, the years when I first discovered it was possible to miss a river. I’d visit on most occasions when I was home, lengthening my running route from my parents’ house just so I could glimpse the gorge and whiling away afternoons in the Niagara Glen. Despite having seen the falls a thousand times, I am still bowled over by their magnificence. In The Day the Falls Stood Still, Tom describes the falls as something that would cause a man walking by to stop, and maybe fill with wonder for bit and be lifted up from the drudgery of his day. I continue to feel the wonder that Tom describes. I think it’s why I wrote The Day the Falls Stood Still.
Colleen: Throughout the book, Tom Cole has a strong connection to the falls, often feeling as if they are speaking to him. Yet Bess often questions not only his belief in his connection to the falls, but her own spirituality. Do you tend more towards Tom’s belief or Bess’s skepticism?
Cathy: My much loved father died as I approached the end of the first draft of The Day the Falls Stood Still. The depth of my grief was astounding to me, as was my inability to grasp the concept of mortality. Where was my father? Why was he gone? Why had he spent seventy-four years on this earth? Why was I here? Was humankind’s existence entirely accidental? I will not pretend for a moment that I’ve figured any of this out. What did happen was that my bewilderment found a home in Bess. To make her real, I read wonderful books─Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed─but I found myself taking solace in their articulation of my own heartache. I read more, again for Bess, this time about faith, the loss of faith and its emergence—Karen Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, Armand M. Nicholi’s The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. There was a time when I would have unequivocally stated that humankind is nothing more than the product of random variations and natural selection, but as I read and wrote and pondered I saw a flickering sliver of light, moments where I glimpsed something I will call faith as a possibility for me. I suppose my beliefs are closer to those held by Bess at the end of the book than by Tom.
Colleen: The Day the Falls Stood Still is one of my favorite reads this year. What are some of the unforgettable books that you have read in 2009?
Cathy: I discovered Donna Morrissey this year, first reading What They Wanted. I loved it, and I loved Sylvanus Now, too. No one does the Newfie voice like Morrissey. No one makes you feel the feral beauty of Newfoundland in quite the same way. Another favourite was Laura Moriarty’s While I’m Falling. I happened to be reading it when Elle came out with its September reader’s picks, books that were subsequently pitted against one another in a reader vote. I was thrilled to find The Day the Falls Stood Still included in the picks, particularly considering that the other two books on the list were new novels by former Grand Prix book-of-the-year winners. My book came in second to While I’m Falling, the very book I was savouring. The most recent book to knock my socks off was Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitterage, a collection of linked stories. In every story she shows a remarkable understanding of human nature.