Summary and book reviews of A Brief History of The Flood by Jean Harfenist

A Brief History of The Flood

By Jean Harfenist

A Brief History of The Flood
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2002,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2003,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

Lillian Anderson is a strong-minded, backwoods-Minnesota girl, well-versed in the basics of survival. She can find air to breathe under a capsized boat, drive in a blizzard, or capture a wild duck. As part of a large struggling family, she tiptoes around her explosive father whose best days always come right after he’s poached something and her neurotically optimistic mother whose bursts of vigor bring added chaos. Lillian barrels through adolescence with no illusions about her future, honing her clerical skills while working the nightshift as a salad girl in the airport kitchen. Just as she’s on her feet and moving out, their house is literally sinking into the marsh. Stunningly honest, this story explores the fierce love that binds family together.

Floating

Mom says, "Now this is how it's supposed to be." She smiles her sparkly smile and looks around the breakfast table at all of us while the breeze off the lake comes through the screens and the red squirrels chitter in the oak trees. Our living and dining room are one big square with golden knotty-pine paneling and a high-beamed ceiling. Dad built it that way. Then he nailed deer heads and rifle racks to the walls and named it Jack's Hunting Lodge. But Mom put a sign out by the road with just our name next to a mallard hen: ANDERSON.

Randy always sits next to me. I kick his bare foot and nod at Dad who's jabbing his sliced bananas with his fork, click-click, click-click against the Melmac bowl. Randy raises his sun-bleached eyebrows at me, which means just let it go, but Mitzy jumps to her feet, points her skinny finger in Dad's face and says, "Mom says it sets her teeth on edge when you do that." I'll be eight this month, Mitzy's nearly ten and Randy...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. As the book opens, Lillian's mother, Marion, looks around the breakfast table at her husband and children and says, "Now this is how it's supposed to be." What does she mean? What does the author wants the reader to understand from this comment?

  2. Marion creates a surprising pontoon-boat float for her family to ride on in the Acorn Lake Fourth of July boat parade. Its theme might be viewed as a baseline for eight-year-old Lillian's ideas about what life is supposed to be like. What events force her to reconsider? If Lillian, as an adult, were to construct a pontoon-boat float symbolizing her own idea of happiness, what theme might she choose?

  3. Some ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Kaye Gibbons
Rigorously beautiful without an ounce of dangerous pretension, a book I’ll put on my book club’s list and keep by the bed for dark nights when I need a language booster shot.

Author Blurb Richard Russo
Reading Jean Harfenist’s [writing] is like finding a hot slot machine in a casino. One winner after another? In wild defiance of the odds? Who cares. Stay seated.

Publishers Weekly

The author's direct narrative style, though sometimes abrupt, gives Lillian's story a bright, three-dimensional quality. Readers looking for a fast, entertaining summer read with multidimensional characters will be pleased with this effort.

Kirkus Reviews

An unexpected delight tales about an unlikely girl that linger well after the last page.

Gail Caldwell, Boston Globe

A granite-tough perspective on a wild and sometimes dangerous childhood. . . . One thinks of the flinty poetry of Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club, say, or the cocksure ease of Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. Hilariously wrought . . . without a whit of melodrama . . . equal parts humor and steel.

San Francisco Chronicle

Harfenist's integrated themes and evocative prose style elevate A Brief History of the Flood . . . giving it the satisfying, rounded feel of a good novel.

Santa Barbara News-Press - Lins Rolens

Funny and sad and somehow good natured, [A Brief History of the Flood] brings us in to the painful intimacies and troubled hearts of the Anderson family. . . . Jean Harfenist explores the interface between love and dysfunction through young Lillian whose voice will stick with you long after you turn the last page.

Emily Carter, Minneapolis Star Tribune

We root for Lillian because she’s an utterly convincing character, fiercely loyal and loving, [with] that rarest of gifts, a sane heart.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

[A] luminous [story] about growing up on a Minnesota lake. Harfenist has spun gold out of the daily lives of the Andersons and their four children in Acorn Lake.

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Wonderfully wry-melancholy . . . An auspicious and stirring debut.

Chicago Tribune

Harfenist has endowed her narrator with an eminent toughness and scathing wit that make being with Lillian the baddest kind of fun.

Entertainment Weekly

Few authors [have] the grace and generosity of Harfenist, whose writing is almost dreamlike in its lyricism.

Washington Post

Charming. . . . Jean Harfenist shows a sure touch with characterization . . . deft and subtle. . . . [Harfenist's] narration is consistently absorbing and enlivened by flashes of description that are unexpected yet completely in character.

Reader Reviews
Susan Chiavelli
Looking for a summer Book Club pick? A Brief History of the Flood is that rare book that can't be put down, and one you'll want to read again and again.  Like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, each chapter fits together with a satisfying click to reveal an ...   Read More

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