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Thursday, January 01, 2009

After the Floods

The catastrophe known around the world simply as “Katrina” has inspired a number of novels since it destroyed New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast in August 2005. And novelists, because of their wonderful ability to create believable characters and subplots, probably have done as much to explain what it was really like in New Orleans after the storm as the rest of the media combined.

Now Bruce Henricksen’s debut novel, After the Floods, offers a much different, but no less perceptive, slant on what it is like to survive one of those life-changing events that none of us really expect to witness for ourselves. Henricksen’s story, set on both ends of the Mississippi River (New Orleans and the fictional Cold Beak, Minnesota), is a magical one that includes talking dogs, talking crows, a little boy wise way beyond his years, a magical distortion of time itself, and a whole cast of eccentric characters doing quite well for themselves, thank you.

After the Floods begins in New Orleans some months after Katrina and immediately introduces the reader to two of its main characters, Ruby and George Corvus, a pair of crows that, like other of God’s creatures, have suddenly been gifted with the power of speech. Things are not going very well in New Orleans, but Ruby and George are making the best of things as they observe the comings and goings below them.

Meanwhile, in Cold Beak, Minnesota, where a flood of its own did its best to destroy the little town, folks like Birdella May Borguson are getting on with their own lives. Birdie, a very large woman, decides that its time to lose weight and she convinces the owners of Cold Beak’s fancy new supper club to let her perform as a stripper in the room adjacent to the dining area figuring that the exercise will burn lots of calories. Fully-functioning businesses appear on previously vacant lots almost overnight much to the fascination and delight of Cold Beak citizens. Birds by the thousand, some seldom if ever seen before in Cold Beak, descend on the town. And some from New Orleans find their way to Cold Beak, including my two favorite characters, Ruby and George.

After the Floods is magical realism at its best, telling its story through other eyes, through the eyes of those who live a different reality than the one we ourselves live. In our world, animals don’t talk and buildings don’t sprout from vacant lots. In Cold Beak, they do, and they are accepted as elements of the reality of life there.

Bruce Henricksen offers the reader a charming little world that offers hope to us all, hope that it is possible to recover from even the worst of disasters, that life goes on in new ways and in new combinations that might be as good, or even better, than what has been lost. This is not escapist fantasy; it is a serious novel cloaked in the very magic of life itself, a book with a positive message that will have you smiling much of the way.

Rated at: 5.0

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