Swampy Alabama: The Flood, Michael McDowell


the flood coverAvon Books, 1983

ISBN 0380814897 (ISBN13: 9780380814893)

Part of the Mysteries from Every State Challenge

The Flood is book number one in Michael McDowell’s Blackwater series. Taking place in the town of Perdido, Alabama in 1919, the novel describes the mysterious appearance of Elinor Dammert on Easter Sunday, immediately after a large flood lays waste to most of the town.

As Elinor settles into the town and becomes part of the community, it is clear she is not exactly who she appears to be. While some can see through her calm and collected exterior and are weary of her, others are completely taken in by the seemingly benevolent schoolteacher.

The Flood is book #1 of McDowell’s Blackwater series and definitely leaves the reader wanting to continue with the next book. However, its connection to the subsequent books in the series makes it difficult to evaluate The Flood on its own, since it undeniably feels like just the beginning of the story. There is little resolution and many may argue that by itself it may not be an altogether satisfying read.

This being said, it is a fantastic book for those who love Southern Gothic novels, with its strange and disturbing characters and the decomposing setting of Perdido after a flood that nearly wiped it out. It is dark and creepy, creating a sinister atmosphere around the town and characters.

The Flood is an interesting representation of Alabama in the 1920’s, depicting the town and society as slowly decaying, holding on to an aristocratic past that is rotting from the inside out.

I was not familiar with McDowell or his work before reading this book, and I found him fascinating. Sometimes learning about an author or artist and their life makes me like their work less. However, in McDowell’s case, his life and career made reading The Flood more interesting.

For one thing, knowing that he collaborated with Tim Burton on Beetlejuice in 1987 and Nightmare Before Christmas in 1993 made me look at his work differently. Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of Tim Burton.

I was also pleased to read his name beside one of my writing heroes, Stephen King, who praised McDowell’s writing. After McDowell’s death in 1999, Tabitha King, Stephen King’s wife and an accomplished author in her own right, completed McDowell’s unfinished novel, Candles Burning, published in 2006 to critical acclaim.

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If you liked The Flood, check out my review of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil