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The Staggerford Flood by Jon Hassler


Rating: (Recommended)


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Community Life

Readers of prior Jon Hassler novels will be particularly pleased with his latest book, The Staggerford Flood. Agatha McGee at age 80 retains all her ability to bring out the best in others. When the waters of the Badbattle River rise, Agatha attracts a houseful of guests to her home, the highest point on Staggerford’s River Street. The group comes back together for a reunion on the first anniversary of the flood and we learn how those few days spent in crisis under one roof transformed several individuals.

Hassler captures rural life, friendship and the challenge of making moral decisions for the greater good. His writing is always crisp and clear, with well-selected images, and flawless dialogue. Here’s an excerpt from page 61:

“She explained that the city clerk, a man names Mulholland, had been visiting houses along the river and recommending that those with old, unfortified foundations have their basements filled with water to withstand the pressure the flood was certain to exert. ‘He says our foundations will collapse inward if we don’t.’
 ‘Nonsense,’ said Agatha. ‘Please come into my house. I’ll get the city clerk on the phone.’
Frederick helped Agatha indoors and hung up the coats of the two women; then, while he drove around to the alley and into the garage, Agatha, going to her window chair, phoned city hall and asked for William Mulholland. ‘He has a one-track mind,’ she confided to Linda Schwartzman. ‘He was the same as a sixth grader. Gets an idea in his head and never lets it go. Do sit down.’
Her guest took the chair she pointed to – Father Healy’s chair nearby – and looked around at the many admirable pieces of very old furniture. A book collector, Linda Schwartzman was especially taken by the matching set of free-standing, glassed-in bookcases.
 ‘William. Agatha McGee. What’s all this foolishness about flooding people’s basements?’
The Ferguson house, though larger, didn’t have the potential of the McGee house, Ms. Schwartzman decided, didn’t have the grace, the feeling of spaciousness. It lacked the wide windows giving out on a large yard.
 ‘William with all due respect to your colleagues on the Mississippi flood plain … I have to say it’s an idea I’ve never heard of before. And what happens to everything we have stored in our cellars? Do you think …?’
But these rooms, despite the windows, had a rather gloomy aspect on says like this. Ms. Schwartzman would start by painting the dark oak woodwork white and laying down a cream-colored carpet.
After a few more words with the city clerk, including, ‘But I sit high above my neighbors and I have a strong foundation!’ Agatha hung up and turned to her guest. ‘The bigwigs at city hall are expecting trouble. William Mulholand claims what I don’t for a minute believe. He says there’s a chance of all of us along River Street … will wake up the day after tomorrow with water up to our windowsills. Those with weak foundation walls can save them by equalizing the pressure from within. He says it won’t be necessary in my case, because my foundation is made of stone. My guess is that yours is, too, Miss Schwartzman, so let’s have a cup of tea … and watch the water come up.’ Agatha headed for the kitchen.
 ‘But mine isn’t stone. It’s a thin wall of cement.’
 ‘The Ferguson house? But it must be stone. It went up at the same time this one did.’
 ‘No, the engineer examined my basement.’
Agatha stopped and considered this. ‘I see. Well, the Fergusons were very thrifty people. They employed my father as their attorney and he always had trouble collecting his fees.’”

Agatha’s deep care and concern for others and for the community leads her to lie about something grave, which produced waves of guilt. Father Healy knew of the lie and condoned it as a small sin intended to help others. Agatha’s scrupulosity and Father Healy’s nonchalance make for a fascinating relationship between those two characters. Characters from prior Hassler books return during The Staggerford Flood, and new characters fit right in. Whether you’re a first-time or seasoned reader of Jon Hassler’s works, you’re likely to enjoy reading The Staggerford Flood.

Steve Hopkins, October 2, 2002


ă 2002 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the November 2002 issue of Executive Times


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