Linda: First, let me thank you for many hours of thoroughly enjoyable reading over the years. It is turning cold in New England now and I just took two more of your books from the library for warm reading under a blanket.
Some of us in the Falls discussion group find Ariah a somewhat unlikable character. When you create a character do you intentionally make one character more or less likeable than another?
Joyce Carol Oates: Writers never think of characters as "likeable" or "unlikeable"-- (Hamlet? Ahab? Dostoyevsky's troubled characters?)-- the intention is to infuse an individual with significant, perhaps representative qualities. Ariah is, fundamentally, a highly individual "feminist" trapped in an era before her time. Even when she loves her work, like piano instruction, the activity is constrained by her being a woman and financially insecure. And though she loves her children, she knows that there is a life, a fuller, professional life, beyond mere motherhood.
Giselle: Thanks for "The Falls", it was a great read. We have been discussing possible themes along the lines of pilgrimage or spiritual journey or similar. If this is a theme of your book, could you point out the key elements of developing this theme and moving it forward through the narrative?
Joyce Carol Oates: "The Falls" is imagined as a mythic work that evolves into a "realistic" work-- through the passage of decades, and as one generation yields to a younger generation. The revered/ feared/ misunderstood father is transmogrified, posthumously, into an actual, environmental hero, in a plausible historic setting.
Giselle: Also, I'm interested in the relationship between authors and readers ... is it reasonable to say that an author develops a 'relationship' with her readers, perhaps over time and publishing of several books? I'm thinking that authors and readers may come to understand each other, on some level, through the shared experience of the books?
Joyce Carol Oates: This is a very good question but too difficult & complex to answer! I am not really conscious of "readers" in any sustained and prevailing way.
Suzanne: Hello Ms. Oates, thank you for spending time with the members of BookTalk.
I noticed similarities between the character Ariah and Niagara Falls in the novel and I am curious as to how the features of Niagara Falls inspired you when writing, "The Falls"? Niagara Falls has a mythical quality that Ariah seems to share and I also felt power and relentlessness, danger and mystery in Ariah and other characters. Are the characters and the setting of "The Falls" connected, and did you give the characters qualities associated with Niagara Falls?
Joyce Carol Oates: Yes, it is true that the "falls" suffuses Ariah and others in the novel. My experience of Niagara Falls has been first-hand, beginning when I was a young child and taken to see the Falls. It is an extraordinary sight-- you can't ever quite take it for granted, no matter how many times you've seen it. Simply magnificent-- but also unsettling, like human passion.
One of my favorite characters in "The Falls" is never mentioned-- the young man Stonecrop, who adores Juliet. He is based physically upon Mike Tyson and his wish to nourish others, to feed them and not hurt them, is based upon two men whom I know who, though very masculine, are also superb cooks and love nothing more than to feed others. (One of these men is Anthony Bourdain, whom I knew years ago but rarely see now that he has become very famous. This intense interest in food, and the wish to nourish others, is a strong instinct which is not often developed in fiction, and rarely in terms of men.)
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