About ninety pages into Bruce Henricksen’s imaginative take on post-Katrina Middle America, After the Floods (Lost Hills Books, 2007), a pair of crows named Ruby and George debate the relative merits of various building materials for their new nest. Yarn or string? Old twigs for a rustic effect, or new twigs for resilience, strength, and pliability? More to the point, should they build a two-room nest in the unlikely event that they receive guests, or would a more traditional one-room nest be more appropriate? While the tone of this passage is certainly fanciful, it speaks nicely to the overall theme of rebuilding that runs throughout the novel. Despite its roots in the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, After the Floods is ultimately a hopeful novel that reflects the strength not only of the human spirit, but of nature as well: strength to survive, strength to rebuild, strength to move on.
The prominence of anthropomorphic characters like Ruby and George (as well as that of a number of dogs who speak among themselves of “the new phenomenon of thought” brought on by the hurricane), gives the novel a somewhat fanciful air, but Henricksen never stoops to Disneyfying his creatures. Rather, he imbues them with a strong sense of humanity by making them worry about the same things that we all worry about — namely various forms of change like displacement and old age. In some ways, it can be argued that Henrickson’s crows are distant cousins to the falcon of William Butler Yeats’s “The Second Coming.” But where the inability of Yeats’s falcon to hear the falconer signals anarchy and that things can only “fall apart,” Henricksen’s crows are distinctly American in their independence. That is, they’re wild birds and have no need for a falconer to tell them what to do; instead, they improvise and make their own order from a chaotic world, as do the human characters of After the Floods.
Overall, After the Floods is a thoroughly enjoyable novel. Its talking animals remind us of the fine line that separates humanity from its own base needs and animal tendencies (a la George Orwell‘s Animal Farm), and the near-stream-of-consciousness nature of the narration is in many instances reminiscent of James Joyce. A wonderfully imagined rumination on humanity’s response to disaster.