A darkness arrives in the small town, Perdido, Alabama on Easter Sunday of 1919 creating an uneasiness that no one can quite figure out. Elinor Dammert is rescued in the aftermath of a flood by Oscar Caskey. She is beautiful and charming but her beauty hides a secret. Beneath the murky water of the Perdido River, she turns into a terrifying, creature that generations of Perdido residents thought was just a scary myth.
This is my first introduction to the works of Michael McDowell and I am completely and utterly hooked. The full saga spans the full life of both Oscar and Elinor, and while there are definitely horrific elements in the book it has a strong American Gothic vibe which is full of wonderful building tension that takes the mundane day-to-day life of the Caskey’s and makes it gripping.
Blackwater was originally published as a series of six books in 1983, it can still be found as separate volumes but most contemporary editions including the audiobook are one book with six parts.
Excerpt The Blackwater Saga by Michael McDowell
“It wasn’t a reflection,” said Oscar Caskey. “
You do like I tell you, and you paddle up to that corner window.”
“I’m not gone do it.”
“Bray, you are gone do it,” said Oscar Caskey, not even turning around, “so don’t bother telling me you’re not. Just go up to that corner window.”
“I’m not gone look in no more windows,” said Bray, not completely under his breath. Then aloud, as he was changing course and paddling nearer the second floor of the hotel, he said, “Pro’bly rats in there. When the water ’gin to rise in Baptist Bottom, I see the rats come up out of their holes, and they run along the top of the fences. Rats know where it’s dry. Ever’body get out of Perdido last Wednesday, it was. So not nothing in that hotel but them smart rats.”
The boat bumped against the eastern facade of the brick hotel. The sun reflected a blinding red against the glass panes. Oscar peered through the window nearest him. All the furniture inside the small hotel room—the bed, the dresser, the chifforobe, the washstand, and the hat rack—were jumbled together in the middle of the floor as if thrown together at the center of a maelstrom that had sunk into the first story. All of it was covered with mud. The carpet, muddy and stiff and black, was bunched together in the corner against the door. In the dimness Oscar could not make out the high-water mark on the dark wallpaper. The carpet trembled, and Oscar saw two large rats rush from a fold of the rug toward the hill of furniture in the center of the room. Oscar jerked his gaze from the window.
“Rats?” asked Bray. “See! I tell you, Mr. Oscar, nothing in this hotel but rats. Don’t need to be looking through no more windows.”
Oscar Caskey didn’t answer Bray, but he stood up, and, grasping the frame of the tattered awning of the next window, he pulled the boat toward the corner of the hotel.
“Bray,” said Oscar Caskey, “this is the window where I saw something move. I saw something pass in front of this window, and it wasn’t any rat ’cause rats aren’t five feet high.”
“Rats been feeding on the flood,” said Bray, though what he meant to suggest Oscar wasn’t certain.
Oscar leaned forward in the boat, grasping the concrete casement of the window with both hands. He peered through the dirty panes. The corner room appeared to have been untouched by the floodwaters. The bed, quietly made, stood where it ought, against the long corridor wall, and the rug was squarely arranged beneath it. The chifforobe and the dresser and the washstand were in their places. Nothing had fallen to the floor and broken. However, where the sun, shining through the eastern window, illuminated a large patch of the carpet, Oscar saw that it was sopping wet—so that he was forced to conclude that the water had risen through the floorboards. But why the furniture in this room should have remained so placidly in place while everything in the adjoining chamber had been broken apart and tossed together and—as a last indignity—sheeted in black mud, Oscar could not puzzle out.
“Bray,” he said, “I don’t know what to make of it.”
“Don’t you try to make nothing of it,” replied Bray. “And I don’t know what you talking about anyway, Mr. Oscar.”
“Nothing’s disturbed in this room. The floor’s just wet.”
Oscar had turned to speak these last words to Bray, who shook his head and again indicated his wish to be well away from this half-submerged building. He was afraid Oscar would want to circle the hotel and look in every last window. Oscar turned back in order to push off from the concrete casement. He glanced in the window, and then fell back into the boat with a small strangled cry of alarm. In that room, which five seconds before had been patently unoccupied, he had seen a woman. She sat quietly on the edge of the bed with her back to the window. Bray, not waiting for an explanation for Oscar’s evident fright—and wanting none—immediately began to paddle off away from the hotel.