After the Flood
Like Waterworld, only good, not campy and more difficult to love, is a decent way to describe After the Flood. Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity survives in mountains and on the ocean, it draws focus on one woman, her young daughter, the man they rescue, and the adventure they embark upon in order to save an important person.
The apocalypse has descended slowly over the world in a series of heavy floods brought on by climate change. The tides have just reached the middle of the country, and pregnant Nebraska native, Myra, has watched life shrink away with the tides. Her mother was washed away in the flood, and now she’s forced to watch in horror as her husband kidnaps their seven-year-old daughter, Row, and speeds her away in the company of a neighbor.
Seven years pass, and the world has fully flooded. Pirates roam the planet, and humanity ekes out an existence in mountaintop colonies and on large boats. Only humans, sharks, snakes and birds have survived extinction. Myra fishes from her boat, The Bird, the vessel in which her late grandfather had planned to spirit the whole family away. Accompanied by eight-year-old Pearl, the daughter she was pregnant with when Row was kidnapped, they live a somewhat dangerous life off the cost of Nova Scotia. Together, they move from primitive town to primitive town, living hand to mouth. All the while, Myra has never stopped looking for Row, and when an encounter with a violent raider informs her that Row is living in a colony called The Valley – what was once Greenland – being held captive by a group of slave traders named The Lost Abbots, Myra springs into action. The matter is most urgent – Row is a candidate to be sent off to a breeding ship, and biological warfare has been unleashed upon the people there in order to bring them to heel.
Along the way, Myra and Pearl meet a man named Daniel. He declares himself bad luck, and when a shark attacks him and the boat, causing it to run aground atop a mountain, his prophecy seems correct. They wave down an enormous trading ship filled with Americans – called the Sedna – and join up with their crew. The blustery, alcoholic captain, Abran, soon has eyes for Myra, but Myra is fascinated by hard-luck Daniel. Yet romance is not the woman’s main drive – she works her way closer to Abran to talk him into going north, even though, with winter approaching, it will be dangerous. Myra knows that this is her chance to rescue Row. Is Myra’s obsession with rescuing Row worth sacrificing the lives of many others? Even her precious Pearl?
After the Flood is a difficult book to love. Myra is almost painfully narcissistic and Montag isn’t able or ready to acknowledge how self-centered she is. In a world where people send their children to be raped and impregnated by cult members so as to continue the human race’s existence, she’s the kind of woman who sends perfectly good (if perfectly flawed) people to their doom out of obsession over one of her daughters. Row is her white whale and Myra is Ahab, wrecking lives and plowing through people so she can have her back. That fifteen-year-old Row might not want to be found, that she might not fit back into Myra’s life are never questions in Myra’s mind. Nor are the feelings of her other daughter taken into account. The most offensive part of the entire Row situation is that the resolution to the plotline is dull and disappointing, a literary cliché.
The other people in Myra’s life exist mostly as lesson plans for her self-improvement, from distraught Daniel to smug Abran. In terms of the action, the book is a consistently unpleasant slog, going from death to death and disappointment to disappointment.
On one hand, it’s unique to trail a female character on an onanistic path of self-discovery. On the other, so many of her monologues are about her – what the kids mean to her, what this journey means to her – that she never feels like the kind of person to make any sort of sacrifice whatsoever. She’s so selfish it’s irritating.
So what kept me reading? Montag’s quality of writing, which is extremely high quality, and kept me completely fascinated. It might make a difference to readers who find her characters and plotting irritating.
To like After the Flood you both have to believe in the power of a mother’s love and totally discount it, in the case of Pearl. It’s a hard to like heartbreaker of a book – and one that is told lushly, credibly and beautifully.
Note: There are many, many heavy subjects discussed in this book –including human trafficking, rape, child rape, sexual slavery, on-page suicide.