Elizabeth McCracken’s novel, Niagara Falls All Over Again, is the complete package: strong plot, well developed characters, and several story lines which tie together well. There are so many ways in which this novel could have gone wrong, the fact that MckCracken pulls it off is a testament to her skill.
The novel is told to us by Moses Sharp, and Midwestern Jewish boy from a small town, who grows up to be the straight man in a highly successful comedy team. From his time on the vaudeville circuit, where he meets Rocky Carter, the driving force in his life, to his retirement from the entertainment business after making countless B-grade movies, we follow Moses throughout. Moses comes from a large family of sisters, but none dearer than Hattie, with whom he plans to go into show business. When that is no longer possible, he faces the choice of taking over his father’s clothing store (as expected), or heading out on his own.
He heads out and McCracken gives us a wonderful look at the vaudeville circuit as it was beginning to die. The hope and despair, the bizarre acts, the ability to improvise, and the dependence on each other, all show through. We follow Carter and Sharp, who resemble Laurel and Hardy in their descriptions (although they too are mentioned in the book), as they go to Hollywood and strike it rich. Professionally. Their personal lives are a different story and they take different directions, but to avoid giving away too much, I’ll leave you to the novel.
While are there are many elements of the book to praise, McCracken’s creation of Moses Sharp is the best. He is an intricately drawn person, especially tricky to do since he is the narrator. But he is an honest narrator and we see him for what he is — a good man with a not always good life and not always exemplary behavior. In other words, he is real.
I’ve praised McCracken’s novel, The Giant’s House, in another post. It is clear that she is a voice to not only read more of, but one we can watch for as she continues to create.