After the Floods, by Bruce Henricksen
You just remember a few of the ripples, not the whole of the river. I don't know any writers, but I think that's what all stories are about, the ripples moving away down some vast river, and the words we find to describe those moments are in the river too, swirling together and then apart. - from After the Floods, page 210 -
After the Floods takes place shortly after Hurricane Katrina, after the flood waters had mostly receded from New Orleans leaving the living to cobble together their destroyed lives. The flood has not only left destruction in its wake, but a weird twist of the world where birds and dogs are able to talk.
The stairs to the upper room were bolted to the side of the building and wobbled unpleasantly. The wrought iron steps were nearly a deal breaker for Smoky.
"Definitely unsafe," Smoky protested. "I want something solid under my feet. I have issues with seeing through the freaking steps. My paws will get trapped. I'll break a leg." Smoky retained an evolutionary memory of leg-hold traps. - from After the Floods, age 14 -
The opening pages are narrated (literally) from a crow's eye view as Ruby and George Corvus survey the damaged neighborhoods. The novel veers away from New Orleans eventually, and takes the reader to Cold Beak, Minnesota -- a fictional town which has also found itself recovering from a flood. It is here in Minnesota where the majority of the story takes place -- revealing the odd and eccentric characters who reside in this small town. Two brothers open a restaurant, an obese woman becomes famous with her striptease act meant to educate and motivate people about weight loss, a bizarre family cult acts out violently, and birds from all over the world flock to the area. In a matter of three weeks a decade's worth of time is compressed and the town grows economically and spiritually. After the Floods gathers together a wide array of characters who pass in and out of each others lives, seeking recovery alongside a river which nourishes them and reminds them of their vulnerability.
Sometimes in dreams, I imagine that the New Hope River has gone silent. The water is there, but it doesn't move. It's a foolish dream, and it probably has something to do with growing old, but maybe also with what we are doing to the planet. I think that our lives are rivers, turning, joining, and rolling on, and also threatened and vulnerable. - from After the Floods, page 55 -
In Henricksen's fictional world, magic is allowed to become reality while various characters (including an omniscient ex-mayor and a young man who questions God through a series of emails) provide insight into such things as religion, social justice, war and death.
I think when someone dies, a bit of meaning leaves the world with him. - from After the Floods, page 157 -
Henricksen's writing is at turns sad, humorous and meditative. If there is a weakness in his prose it is that he never fully develops each character before moving on to the next. I will admit that magical realism is not the genre I typcially read and enjoy -- so it is to Henricksen's credit that I felt engaged in the novel from the start. After the Floods is comedic and spiritual, hopeful and despairing -- it does not offer answers, but instead frames questions about life, death, faith and how our lives interconnect with others.
Readers who enjoy well-written magical realism will undoubtedly love this novel. Charming and memorable, it will make you look at the world around you just a little bit differently.
Three and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".