The Flood

The Flood - Michael McDowell This is my fifth Review Month review.

Does anyone else remember that great romp of a soap opera, Dark Shadows from the 60s and early 70s?

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I've always loved that show, even though I wasn't exactly around when it originally aired. Every episode had deliciously cheesy dialogue and I think the series had some great storylines, with the best of course being Barnabas's first shows.

I'm currently reading the fourth book in this series, and the whole time I've read the series I've felt like this was almost a southern version of that series with watered down supernatural elements (pun intended), and a more serious story.

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The series takes place in Perdido, Alabama, a town ruled by the rich families who own the lumber mills that operate along the two rivers that branch off from the town. Here is a map of Perdido that I found online while reading the first book that helped me visualize its makeup a little better.

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It was tricky finding this particular, fictional map, because there is actually a real town in Alabama named Perdido.

If you look to the left of the map, alongside the Perdido River are five houses. The three to the farthest left belong to the richest family of all, The Caskeys, who our story is based around.

This first book in the series starts after a flood covers all of Perdido in 1919, causing all the townspeople to move to higher ground . Some men take boats out into this partially covered town to make sure everyone got out, and that no one remains in the upper stories of the buildings.

Oscar Caskey, son of the family matriarch Mary Love, is out searching with the family handyman/gardener/chauffeur, Bray Sugarwhite.

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The two men are passing the second story of the Osceola Hotel, when Bray spots a woman sitting inside on one the beds. This woman comes with Oscar and Bray back to higher ground.

The rest of the town are baffled that she has survived for a week in the hotel without eating. Bray is even more baffled when he goes back to retrieve her bags and sees the the high-water mark of the flood is somewhere near the ceiling of the room.

Little does Oscar, Bray, or the rest of the Caskey family know what effect this enigmatic and mysterious woman will have on the town of Perdido, or on the family itself.

This lady's name is Elinor Dammert, and she isn't entirely human.

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This first book is the series is fantastic, but it doesn't hold up to the next three books. This series just keeps getting better and better, and some members of this family are so complex and well written it really baffles me.

The thing that McDowell does in this book that I hope he was really proud of was he perfectly showed the relations and "rules" of a southern family. He just understood that southern antebellum behavior that makes the south such a wild place.

He also creates an astounding atmosphere. I could practically feel the southern heat on my skin, and the sun bearing down on me. Oh, and the awesome imagery. Every scene in this book is so fleshed out and visceral, I actually felt as if I was standing in the background of some of them.

The strange thing about how he is able to create this atmosphere and imagery is the fact that he takes a very minimalist approach to descriptions. The reader never gets a clear depiction of what the Caskeys look like, nor do we get a rendering of what Perdido itself looks like. But I never really wanted one, I enjoyed having my own idea of what this place looked and felt like.

McDowell is a real forgotten treasure of a writer and after researching him, I have even more respect for him.

This is a man who graduated from Harvard and could have written literary, mass-published novels, but who chose to write paperback originals so he could get more work out to his readers.

"I am writing things to be put in the bookstore next month. I think it is a mistake to try to write for the ages."


And at the same time he was also a really interesting man. He collected pictures of corpses and, rumour has it, his coffee table was an empty coffin.

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So without any doubt I give 5 black-as-the-flood stars to this wonderful forgotten classic.

Even if it's not as good as its successors, you always have to starts somewhere.

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You can find my review of McDowell's other book, The Elementals, here .