A Brief History Of The Flood by Jean Harfenist

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This week I am reading a book that I borrowed from out of town through our Interlibrary Loan service (which is only one of the great services we offer at TBPL). It’s a book by Jean Harfenist, an author who grew up in rural Minnesota.  Her name brought to mind Rose Nylund from The Golden Girls. It kind of sounds like someone Rose might have talked about in her tales about St. Olaf, Minnesota. But then, Rose is a fictional character, right?

As a rule I’m not a fan of short stories, but this novel consists of 11 short stories that are linked together and cover the time period between 1959 and 1970. We follow Lillian Anderson as she ages from 8 to 18.  She lives with her sister, two brothers and parents in a rundown house, that’s prone to flooding in the town of Acorn Lake, Minnesota. Growing up is a challenge when your father is an alcoholic who likes to sit in his recliner drinking beer. The whole household has to tiptoe around him. Her mother fluctuates between highs and lows and is prone to popping pills. She’s either up for some crazy scheme or she’s taken to her bed for days at a time.

Lillian meanwhile is busy learning new skills, such as shoplifting. That was going well until her friend put all their “purchases” into a baby stroller and tried to steal it too. This ended with a trip to the police station.

I enjoyed Harfenist’s style. Her writing reminded me a little of one of my favourite authors, Lorna Landvik. And we all know how I enjoy reading books that take place in Minnesota. There’s a part in the book where Lillian’s father returns from a hunting trip bearing all sorts of creatures – ducks, a fox, even a loon, which is the state bird.  Then follows the ritual of taking photos of family members with the bounty he’s brought home.  Or as Lillian says the only family photos we take have something dead in them. Then all the family gets involved in trying to clean the creatures.

I haven’t quite finished the book, but I’m looking forward to getting back to it. Enjoy.

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