2.21.2018

Blackwater: The Complete Saga

Image result for blackwater the complete saga mcdowellMichael McDowell is a writer of great range and impressive talent. It has been a few years (maybe as far back as reading Blake Crouch's Run or Neil Gaiman's American Gods) that I became as engrossed in a story as I did with McDowell's Blackwater saga.

It's an ambitious, epic story that McDowell released over the course of six long novellas in 1983. I can't imagine what it must have been like living in his head at that time, as the story spans generations of families over the course of much of a century. McDowell's fictional berg of Perdido is fully realized as a rapidly evolving cultural center of rural Southern Alabama. McDowell never shies away from dealing with the subjects of racism, poverty, misogyny, sexuality, and the impacts of WWII on Perdido. His observational talents are keen and he writes fine dialogue. One of my favorite aspects of his writing is his uncanny ability to render Miriam and Elinor Dammert's curt responses perfectly at every turn. These are proud, powerful women, and McDowell's characterization rings absolutely true.

And that's to say nothing of Mary-Love Caskey--the matriarch of Perdido's first family. Mary-Love is a piece of work, and that's putting it nicely. Her dealings with Elinor, who marries Mary-Love's only son Oscar, escalate from terse to all-out war in the span of a few chapters. It's compelling emotional warfare as members of the family (and Perdido itself) take sides. 

This is a ghost story and an historical melodrama. It's a horror tale and a coming-of-age story. It's a brutally honest testament to the human condition while also peering unapologetically into the abyss of the monstrous. It's taken as a given that Elinor is different than the rest of Perdido, but the nature of her differences is always treated with hushed gossip as she frolics in the turbid waters of the Perdido and Blackwater Rivers.

This is an achievement in literature, folks. If you haven't read McDowell's work, start here and then be prepared to be repeatedly surprised by the quality of the writing and storytelling...

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