Once again, readers, my insomnia had come to call, and I needed a good read for the night. However, choosing the story took some time. I wanted something different from the usual ghosts, vampires, and demons of contemporary horror. I craved a story with more complexity in its characters and antagonists. Michael McDowell’s Blackwater delivers! I have learned that Michael McDowell’s Blackwater was initially published as a series of books. Blackwater: The Complete Saga is a publishing of the books collected as one novel. Each part of the saga builds upon the horror and suspense of the previous events. I guarantee there is something for everyone in this story. Avid readers and horror enthusiasts, I am overjoyed to present Blackwater: The Complete Saga by Michael McDowell!
Readers enter the scene after a massive flood has overtaken the small town of Perdido, Alabama, in 1919. Two men, Mr. Oscar Caskey and Bray Sugarwhite, his hired hand, paddle through the town’s ruins and the foul, murky water when they come across an out-of-towner stranded on the second floor of the destroyed Osceola Hotel. Although it was believed that everyone in town escaped the flood four days ago, Ms. Elinore Dammert proved the contrary. The men help her into their small boat and return to high ground. At the designated refuge, situated a mile away, Elinore meets the women of the wealthiest families of Perdido. Because the town is small, everyone is familiar with everyone else in Perdido except for Elinore Dammert. The odd circumstances and coincidences surrounding her arrival sparks curiosity and suspicions among the ladies. They can’t put their finger on why or how, but something isn’t right about Elinore.
Written from a third-person point of view, the story focuses on Elinore and the Caskey family. This view allows readers to experience the depth of each person’s social and familial dynamics in the story. The window into each character’s mindset enables the reader to understand the thoughts and actions, including the presumed antagonist. Every character is unique to themselves. As events unfold, readers may sympathize with certain members of the Caskey family, while others may relate to the emotional turmoil caused by a prominent figure.
The differing personalities of each character create a believability that readers can see as real people they may know. Mary-Love Caskey, for example, is a doting and loving mother in the eyes of the town. However, she is pretty overbearing and combative with her family. Carl Strickland, on the other hand, is seen as a husband with an unhappy wife. The reality of his relationship with his family is known only to a few. The author writes exceptionally well about how each character presents themselves in public, to their friends and family, and themselves.
Mr. McDowell introduces readers to a fascinating antagonist bound to the river and the nearby land. Children in Perdido have created their folklore regarding this being. They begin to regale stories about a monster that is froglike in appearance with a tail. This menace enjoys eating people and burying their remains at the bottom of the river. Although this creature may sound menacing, McDowell leaves the distinction of good, evil, or neither to his captive audience. It is all about perception.
The drama the family navigates as the story progresses is underlined with uncertainty, mystery, and suspense. Readers follow the family through the Depression, WWII, and the Civil Rights Movement, all significant events in U.S. history. Yet, while all these events are taking place, something horrific and terrifying comes to the surface at different intervals. This story is straight-out horror hidden by family drama, or for those who need a visual reference, Jerry Springer meets Rob Zombie.
There are so many themes in this written work that it is hard to name them all. The most prominent theme in this story is family. The Caskey family has a complicated relationship regarding love, loyalty, and expectations. These elements within the family can either drive members away or bring them together. The family dynamic has such a strong influence on each character and how they interact with others. The second I mention is people vs. nature. Although the assumed antagonist is not human, the author does not explicitly say they are evil. Additionally, there are human characters in this story who can be viewed as much more monstrous than the antagonist. Therefore, McDowell presents readers with an interesting question: who is the real monster?
I enjoyed watching each character develop and overcome some of their obstacles the most. There is so much going on with this family that it is challenging to keep track. Still, the family does the best they can. The twists and surprises that come about have, at times, forced me to re-read moments because they are entirely unexpected and, sometimes, horrific. This story is so engaging that it is hard not to invest emotionally into the family. I recommend Blackwater: The Complete Saga to pretty much everyone who loves horror.
Blackwater: The Complete Saga, written by Michael McDowell, is available as a physical paperback, e-book, and audible book. Readers can find this book on Amazon, Barns and Nobel, and wherever books are sold. As I have said before, your local library may also have a few copies to lend.
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