There’s nothing like a really big book to recommit you to a reading goal.
Having read Stephen Markley’s “Ohio,” I was thrilled to download his follow up, “The Deluge,” ahead of publication (January 10). Having neglected to look up how long “The Deluge” is, I forged ahead on my iPad, convinced at some point I’d make significant progress. It wasn’t until about two weeks in and having barely made a dent that I actually checked it out.
968 pages. Oof. But honestly? So damn good.
Like any long read, it takes a while for the narrative to pick up steam. A good author takes his or her time to flesh out character arcs and storylines, and there are more than a handful here in Markley’s dystopian vision of the next two decades in America.
And it’s going to keep me up at night for the foreseeable future. Or at least every time there’s a weather event.
With “Ohio,” Markley sets his sights squarely on the opioid crisis — with “The Deluge,” it’s damn near everything else, with a heavy emphasis on the ongoing climate crisis. Mix in a lot of dangerous white nationalists, a former actor turned religious leader, Big Oil corporate greed, the terrifying evolution of AI, people trying to escape their pasts and science that’ll scare the pants off you, and you’ll discover exactly why Markley needed this much paper to do the story justice.
The breadth and depth of Markley’s cast of characters is ambitious. If I tried to cover them all, I’d likely be typing into tomorrow, but within each subplot, all loosely connected, you’ll find someone to cheer for and someone that’ll haunt your nightmares. The complexity of character makeup mirrors the theme of the book. If there is a book club out there that wants to take it on, you’ll have no problem whatsoever spending multiple meetings breaking down the enigma that is Kate Morris. Or the devastating journey of Keeper. Or the brutal lines that people will or will not cross to achieve their goal.
I’m not going to lie — “The Deluge” is anxiety-triggering if for no other reason than the America that Markley serves up feels like it should be science fiction until you realize it’s not really that far from the truth. Our collective blind eye to the climate crisis, increasing weather events, religious fanaticism, government leaders that have no business leading anything … it’s all very real. And scary. But if the fictional crises in this book are possible, so then is the commitment to making change happen, whether it be through science, activism or a commitment to both, that we see Markley’s characters undertake.
That said, for the panic attacks you risk reading this, the emotional satisfaction that comes from rich storytelling and characters you grow to care about so much so that your heart will break if something untoward happens is SO WORTH IT. It was like reading a Jane Smiley trilogy all at once, but this was, hands down, my favorite book this year.
“The Deluge” is scheduled to be released January 10 — don’t miss it.