Lil Anderson is young, gutsy, brave, naive, quirky, fast-talking, quick-witted, and totally affecting. She is also the memorable debut creation of California writer Jean Harfenist.
Presented as a series of short stories, which segue easily from one to another very much like chapters, "A Brief History of the Flood" traces the life of Lil from 1950 through 1979, between the ages of eight and 18. She shares a usually flooded, much in need of repair lakefront home outside of Acorn Lake, Minnesota with older brother and sister, Randy and Mitzy, younger brother, Davey, and a black Lab, Happy.
Mother Marion in tiny shorts with a wide belt encircling her tiny waist has a world view determined by the words of every love song she has ever heard. She sees only what she wishes and wishes for the impossible. If she's awake, "she's working on something," weaving a rug from panty hose or even building a floating wedding cake for the Fourth of July Float contest.
Dad Jack is an intrepid hunter who built their home then dubbed it "Jack's Hunting Lodge." He delivers dictates and diatribes in equal measure as he clinks ice cubes in his glass of Old Heaven Hill. Lil learned early in life to avoid him because as her Mom explains the young girl has "a talent for saying the one thing that'll launch him. Like good morning or hello."
As an eight-year-old Lil enjoys carefree days on the water, drifting in the family's pontoon or flipping over a rowboat to make breathing room underneath. Harsh reality strikes with 1965 as Randy is of draft age. Mitzi has a busy social life, having "dated every other boy who comes to school without manure on his shoes," and Lil surrenders her virginity to a teacher, Mr. C.
At the age of 15, along with five friends, Lil finds work putting together salads for airline passengers at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. It's driving 62 miles each way but that night shift duty pays $1.73 an hour, even though they're overseen by a hefty supervisor who "fills the cafeteria door like a new refrigerator."
Noting that her Mom knows Lil can run her own life and "Dad doesn't care," the teenager moves quickly into shop lifting with best pal Irene who pierces Lil's ears in the basement restroom of a shopping center. Being caught doesn't stem their taste for further adventure.
A teacher mentions that Lil's Mom has "bursts of vigor," little knowing that these spasms may be due to the Dexedrine she pops, and generously shares with her daughter. This drug induced energy enables Lil to whip through her high school classes, and land a job as a typist at an insurance company in St. Paul. Keeping the pounds off, Lil finds, is another benefit of her "speed system."
Growing up has not been easy for Lil, but reading this masterfully crafted coming-of-age tale is pure pleasure. Jean Harfenist is definitely a writer to watch with her knack for presenting an arresting narrative voice that lingers in readers' minds. In precise, penetrating strokes the author portrays off-beat characters with their foibles full-blown.
This report prepared by The Snide Gail Cooke