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A Brief History of the Flood (Vintage Contemporaries)by Jean Harfenist
Synopses & Reviews
In Acorn Lake, Minnesota, Lillian Anderson has reached the end of childhood still believing her much-adored mother’s worldview that life is a floating-wedding-cake fantasy fueled by love—that’s it, just love. She believes it even while naming every new pet right away, because anything without a name is likely to get eaten. She believes it in spite of knowing she needs to head home when hunters are hiding behind duck blinds with their shotguns loaded and the safeties off.
But clearly, not everybody is playing by the same rules as her mother, Marion, a resolutely optimistic roller coaster of a woman, equal parts mom, little girl and sexual goddess. Especially not her father, Jack, an easily ignited alcoholic with a talent for making the entire family feel as if they’re living beneath a clenched fist. When Lillian isn’t tiptoeing around her parents, she’s learning about life—and sex—from her two brothers and Mitzy (“My sister is the kind of girl who thinks letting Buddy Franklin fuck her in the Hoffmans’ hayloft is the same thing as a date”), and from her father’s mistress, Betty Boop, who tells her, “Once you learn how to cook and sew, hordes of hungry men will show up on your doorstep dragging gunnysacks full of mending.”
In a family scratching its way down a small-town social ladder, Lillian barrels from childhood into her early twenties with no illusions about her future, biding her time and honing her shorthand. But as she’s struggling to get on her feet and get out, her family’s house—built long ago on landfill hauled in to cover the marsh—is literally going under.
This is the irresistible debut of a writer with a hypnotizing gift for place and voice, and a singular talent for capturing the best and worst of rural life; in eleven linked stories she delivers up a character with the grit and sheer exuberance needed to appreciate the best and overcome the worst. Rich in emotion and brimming with wit, A Brief History of the Flood speaks to the question of whether it is possible, or even desirable, to leave the most troubled of family histories behind, and offers clear-eyed evidence that familial love, in even the most inclement circumstances, finds purchase in us, and persists.
About the Author
Jean Harfenist’s short stories have appeared in Quarterly West, Nimrod, Wisconsin Review, Sonora Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, CrazyHorse and Prism International. She lives in Santa Barbara, California.
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