FLOOD by Andrew Vachss

I’d always been interested in Andrew Vachss and was happy to finally read one of his novels. It certainly kept me reading and I’m glad I finished it. For someone who doesn’t think of himself primarily as an author, Vachss sure knows how to keep a plot humming. Certain scenes were almost unbearably suspenseful. Cliched? Maybe but there is no other way to describe it. Unfortunately, I just don’t think this holds up a novel. Part of the problem is the ugliness. By this I don’t mean the theme of child abuse. I have no objections to a book that focuses unblinkingly on a horrific topic. We need books like that. The problem with Flood is the relentless insistence on awfulness. Child molesters are evil predators but this book’s constant reduction of human beings to “maggots” which is emphasized over and over and over and over again just becomes soul-crushing. Perhaps it would be easier to take if Burke had much sympathy for regular people. You’d think Burke would view them as naive and needing protection. Instead, he sneers at them as “citizens” and views them as beneath contempt. At best, they are in his way. At worst, they are unknowingly helping the “maggots.” Either way Burke hates them. Hate is definitely the theme of this book. It is difficult to deal with Burke’s hatreds. You are probably on the list somewhere. If you like cats, live in the suburbs, work any kind of regular job, then Burke most likely hates you. Vachss would probably argue he was just being realistic. To some degree at least, the book certainly is. It just doesn’t make for a very strong novel. I have been deeply moved by some of Mr. Vachss’ articles on abuse and what can be done about it. Vachss is an admirable man who spends most of his time protecting and helping children. My hat goes off to him. But that doesn’t make this book work. That is a shame since several of the characters are very engaging and refreshingly non-stereotyped. I heard Vachss mention in an interview that he was not crazy about Flood since it was his first published novel and he felt it was lacking certain things he learned later on. I’d be quite interested to read some later books by Vachss.  

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