Niagara Falls All Over Again

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Niagara Falls All Over Again is Mick (Mose) Sharp's story of his life, or more specifically his life as a professional comic. (McCracken's title alludes to one of Abbott and Costello's most famous and maddeningly funny routines.) The son of the Jewish owner of a men's clothing store, Sharp leaves the confinement of his small Midwestern hometown and the business his father wants him to run in order to realize his American dream. In 1931 he teams up with the more worldly-wise Rocky Carter and over the next twenty-five years achieves considerable success, first on the vaudeville stage, then radio, film, and television. As the downward trajectory of Rocky's life accelerates, Mick's becomes more emotionally stable and financially secure. The partnership breaks up, Mick's marriage does not, despite the accidental drowning of his young daughter.

Niagara Falls All Over Again belongs to a subgenre of freak fiction which includes Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus (1984), Katherine Dunn's Geek Love (1989), and Paul Auster's Mr. Vertigo (1994), but it differs from these others in being, like the author's earlier The Giant's House (1996), less fantastic and more emotionally engaging in its handling of McCracken's characteristic concerns: love and longing and loss. Love is what Mick Sharp and the other characters desire, loss is what they often get. Against death (of which there is plenty in this novel), McCracken offers her own brand of poignant deadpan. She and Mick go to the very edge of sentimentality, where, like some cartoon characters, they lean at a gravity-defying angle without quite toppling over.

Although McCracken clearly understands Rocky's desire "to pump tragedy full of slapstick," Niagara Falls All Over Again implies that her sympathies are with her novel's straight man.