Hurricane Harvey and Happenings in Novels

Major real-life events can make fans of literature think of…literature. Such is the case with Hurricane Harvey — the catastrophic storm that has people focusing on lives lost, lives drastically disrupted, immense property damage, overdevelopment that eliminates water-absorbing open space, and…certain books.

I thought of novels that depict the devastating consequences of human-caused climate change, as do Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. I also remembered fictional works in which water-related disasters are prominently featured — with those books including George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (huge flood), John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (epic rains near the novel’s end), Eliot’s Daniel Deronda and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Jack London’s Martin Eden (drowning scenarios), etc. And one can’t ignore a novel titled The Year of the Flood — the second installment of Margaret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic/eco-drenched trilogy that starts with Oryx and Crake and ends with MaddAddam.

Parable of the Sower, a 1993 dystopian sci-fi novel I finished this morning, is also prescient about several other things besides climate change — including the evils of profit-driven privatization of public entities. Heck, the horrific Hurricane Katrina, which happened twelve years after Butler’s book came out, resulted in charter school operators taking over the public school system in New Orleans and worsening education there as they monetized it. Parable also has a lot to say about race, gender, religion, and nasty/soulless corporations — topics Donald Trump has helped turn into disasters of another sort in 2017.

Of course, novels featuring ship voyages are often going to have water-related disasters. Two examples — one from literary lit and one from popular lit — include Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick with its ill-fated Pequod vessel and Paul Gallico’s The Poseidon Adventure with its capsizing ocean liner that turns upside down.

I haven’t read this novel, but Julie Barnes’ All Flavors includes a Florida hurricane as a significant presence.

For you, what fictional works (if any) came to mind after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas, and surrounding areas?

You’re also welcome to mention novels you were reminded of by non-hurricane tragedies of any era. Examples include Albert Camus’ The Plague, Mary Shelley’s plague-filled The Last Man, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (cyclone), and books that use real-life disasters in a fictional setting — such as Pete Hamill’s Forever (the 9/11 attacks) and Anthony Burgess’ The Kingdom of the Wicked (which ends with Pompeii’s 79 AD volcanic eruption).

Trump’s unwelcome Twitter storms don’t count…

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece, about going back to school but not about going back to school, is here.

65 thoughts on “Hurricane Harvey and Happenings in Novels

  1. Read this one decades ago, so I remember but a bit– John D. McDonald’s “Condominium”, wherein dwellers in a high rise suffer the devastation a hurricane surrounded and occasionally impaled by flying bits of shoddy construction, the results of local corruption among contractors, inspectors, politicians. What remains vivid in my memory are the descriptions of the Big One slamming against the building, and through it.

    Which reminds me: didn’t Lizabeth Salander go through a bit of hurricane bother?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, jhNY! “Condominium” sounds INTENSE. Probably not popular among condo developers… 🙂

      That’s right — Ms. Salander WAS in a hurricane in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy; I believe she saved a woman from a bad guy trying to commit a murder under “cover” of that storm. Glad you remembered that; I’ve read all three novels, but that scene had slipped my mind.

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  2. Here’s a round-up of strays:

    1)The grand-daddy of ’em all in this general category of literature is Boccaccio, whose “The Decameron” (1353), a series of tales told in turn by ten characters, is framed around the isolation and retreat of nobles who gather after having left more populated areas in an attempt to escape the Black Death.

    The book is often mentioned in connection with The Canterbury Tales, as it seems to have inspired Chaucer to his work.

    2)Heinrich Von Kleist wrote a short story titled The Earthquake in Chile (1807), which though it’s based many years and a continent away, draws its power from thoughts and descriptions arising out of the Lisbon Earthquake (1755). The story, as I remember it, captures the mayhem and general upheaval, literal and social, that such cataclysms produce.

    3) Port Royal, Jamaica, home to pirates and traders, was destroyed by earthquake in 1692. Rumors of pirate treasure lost in the event inspired the movie “City Beneath the Sea” (1953), starring Robert Ryan and Anthony Quinn.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave, the book that popped into my head this morning is a non-fiction book about the great Flu Pandemic of 1918 (also called the Spanish Flu), which killed something like 50 million people around the world, certainly more than in WWI that happened around that same time (and probably caused more deaths from flu that might haven’t occurred otherwise). I can’t seem to find my copy of the book, but I remember buying it around the time there was so much concern about the avian (bird) flu or something that they thought could infect humans and cause another pandemic years ago. I was so concerned about this, particularly having suffered some very bad flu infections back in the 70’s, and since then a couple cases of pneumonia. I’m fanatical about getting my flu shot each year, and pneumonia shots (now the much-better new Prevnar vaccine).

    I don’t remember if there was any literature about the 1918 Pandemic; does anyone here know?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here are two items of possible interest to you, the first a dissertation titled “The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Literature and Memory” by Caroline Hovanec, the second being a fantastic and driving song by the inimitable Blind Willie Johnson on the topic, titled “Jesus Is Coming Soon.”(The lyrics, more or less, are included below the pix on the youtube site, and yep he sings like a buzzsaw.)

      http://etd.library.vanderbilt.edu/available/etd-06082009-150551/unrestricted/HovanecMAThesis.pdf

      Liked by 1 person

      • Also, there’s a very panoramic account of many writers of the time, and the curious fact that, despite, in some cases, horrific and up-close experiences of the pandemic, little of the experience made it into their writings– in the book “America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918”, by Alfred W. Crosby. (I cant cut and paste, given the document type, but I hope I’ve gotten you close to the several paragraphs pertaining.)
        https://books.google.com/books?id=KYtAkAIHw24C&pg=PA316&lpg=PA316&dq=influenza+william+carlos+williams&source=bl&ots=09JIF1kF_M&sig=aW6fmvh_k7fvbLnXuR1_Cxq-vHw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi979HYv5PWAhXJWSYKHavXAf0

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Kat Lib, for your comment, and jhNY for your responses!

          I haven’t looked at jhNY’s links yet, but couldn’t immediately think of literature about the 1918 flu pandemic. But there are of course many novels that touch on World War I — Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge,” Willa Cather’s “One of Ours,” and L.M. Montgomery’s “Rilla of Ingleside,” to name just a few. I’ve read all those books, but can’t remember if the pandemic is mentioned in any of them, even in passing.

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          • jhNY thanks for your responses to me. I listened to the song, and while I prefer more melodic singers, the song is appropriate since there are many Christians who did (and still do) believe that certain events were harbingers of the Apocalypse and that Jesus would be coming soon. Although, of course, if one reads the Bible, Paul makes it clear that he thought Jesus would be returning within their lifetime; but, I’ve been to churches where they still believe he will be returning any day and can’t wait for it — at which point I would start rolling my eyes and stop listening to whatever they were saying.

            The book you mentioned sounds quite interesting, and I was of course thrilled to see that it was written by a professor from the University of Texas at Austin. Unfortunately, not one that I ever took a class from, but I’d have loved to have been at a lecture from him. It’s amazing to think that we don’t much care about a disease that wiped out millions of people, yet were totally freaked out by a few cases of Ebola and Zika in this country just a few years ago!

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            • ” It’s amazing to think that we don’t much care about a disease that wiped out millions of people, yet were totally freaked out by a few cases of Ebola and Zika in this country just a few years ago!”

              I am reminded of a quote attributed to Joseph Stalin:
              “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

              Liked by 1 person

              • I’m so afraid that that is true, and thanks for reminding me of it.

                On another topic, yesterday was my 68th birthday, and we spent part of the day at the Brandywine River Museum for one of the last weeks of their “Andrew Wyeth Retrospective” exhibits. It was wonderful, and Bill bought me a book with all the paintings in it and my task for the day is to go through it to pick out my favorite print to have framed. jhNY, when walking through the museum store,they of course had many copies of books that N.C. Wyeth illustrated — I can’t remember off the top of my head which was the one you mentioned recently, but for some reason I think it was “Treasure Island”? Of course, the price of that book was $30, which you could buy more cheaply somewhere else, but it was certainly interesting as I paged through it.

                Liked by 1 person

                • “Treasure Island” was the one I mentioned, though I’m sure I could be, and have been, overwhelmed and fascinated by any number of his illustrations. I was specifically thinking of the illustration of Blind Pugh on the road, as he made his way to deliver The Black Spot, but that’s probably not the best possible choice for wall decor…

                  Small world dept.: here in NYC, I used to know one of the Wyeth clan, Howie, named after Howard Pyle, who was a drummer and a stride piano player of some talent. His most famous claim to fame beyond his family connection: he played drums for Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour way back when. Sadly, he died some years ago.

                  Liked by 1 person

      • Starting a new thread here, because I was at the point where our comments were down to one letter per line, which makes it very difficult to read! I’ve been spending the afternoon going through the book I got yesterday at the Wyeth museum. There were a few pics of paintings by N.C. Wyeth from WWI, which were striking. Paging through this wonderful book to pick out those paintings I wanted to have prints of, I think I have at least 10 paintings that I’ve got a post-it note to mark it. I tried to stay away from the usual suspects (such as “Christina’s World”) which were wonderful, but I wanted to seek out those paintings that I had a visceral reaction to, which were many.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Non-Fiction Papa:

    Until 1935, Labor Day, Henry Flagler’s railroad through the Florida Keys had been a wonder of the age- after, it was a twisted ruin, and was never rebuilt. Two days after the hurricane which destroyed it had moved on, Ernest Hemingway, in his boat Pilar, came to feed and comfort whoever survived.

    From the “Florida Keys News” (6/6/2013):

    Sept. 7, 1935, Ernest Hemingway penned a letter to his editor and friend, Maxwell Perkins. He wrote, “We were the first in to Camp Five of the veterans who were working on the Highway construction. Out of 187, only 8 survived. Saw more dead then I’d seen in one place since the Lower Piave in June of 1918.”He described Indian Key as, “absolutely swept clean, not a blade of grass, and over the high center of it were scattered live conchs that came in with the sea, craw fish, and dead morays. The whole bottom of the sea blew over it.”

    He also stated, “we made five trips with provisions for survivors to different places, but nothing but dead men to eat the grub. Max, you can’t imagine it, two women, naked, tossed up into trees by the water…. recognize them as the two very nice girls who ran a sandwich place and filling-station three miles from the ferry.”

    The Sun-Sentinel, 1935:

    Those who perished in the storm included 259 World War I veterans living in three Civilian Conservation Corps camps while they worked constructing the Overseas Highway. A train sent to rescue them from the storm arrived too late and many died on board when it was swept off its track by the storm surge.

    Author Ernest Hemingway visited the Keys after the storm and wrote a scathing magazine article critical of those rescue efforts titled, “Who Killed the Vets?”

    Liked by 1 person

      • The portion describing the two women is more graphic and unsettling than what I put up here– reminding me, and in all likelihood him, of an earlier (WWI) event in Hemingway’s life: an explosion at an Italian factory in which several women were blown to pieces.

        In each case, the writer looked long and carefully at things most of us would find difficult to glance at. Pretty sure the actual Hemingway was, somewhere deep inside himself, stranger than fiction.

        Still he was one hell of an eyewitness.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The first work of fiction that came to mind when I heard about Harvey was, well, “Harvey,” a play about an imaginary rabbit. It was performed at my high school when I was there, though I wasn’t in it. Or, if I was, I was imaginary.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hurricane Harvey has been catastrophic, will take years to re-build. May the people of Texas stay strong and start anew giving thanks for living through harrowing days and nights of incessant rains.

    On a lighter note,perhaps,the short story : “Donald J. RUMP, Man, Myth, Moron” is truly a terse,yet a DISASTEROUS read. Apocalyptic undertones😣 Shelley Winter’s girth sank the boat in the tv version of Poseidon Adventure back in the 1970’s,heck we know Frumpy has limited buoyancy on many levels.😓

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michele! Well said.

      Yes, Hurricane Harvey was/is totally catastrophic — and now Hurricane Irma is looking kind of scary, too. But, according to Trump and many other far-right Republicans, climate change is nothing to worry about or doesn’t even exist. 😦

      Ha — a lot of “M’s” for Trump! I’d also add mean…VERY mean.

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  7. Another try at posting:

    Hi Dave, one of the novels not already mentioned by you and others is “The Age of Miracles,” by Karen Thomas Walker. The plot centers around a young girl, Julia, as well as her friends and family, living in California. There is an unexplained phenomenon of the rotation of the Earth around the Sun taking longer day by day and year to year, called “the slowing.” There’s much controversy as to whether one should be following clock time or daylight time, and obviously causes major disruptions for animals and crops as well as people. Needless to say, all of this doesn’t bode well for the planet Earth.

    For some reason, I thought about Ray Bradbury, because this sounds like something he would write. I pulled out my copy of “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” and just reading the story titles, I picked out, “All Summer in One Day,” which takes place on Venus, where it rains for 7 years, and the Sun only appears for one hour before the rain starts again for another 7 years. The main character in the story is a young girl named Margot, who is the only one of her classmates who grew up on Earth long enough before moving to Venus, to actually remember the Sun. Her classmates lock her in a closet so that she can’t see the Sun when it emerges for its once in 7 years appearance. I was intrigued to learn from Wikipedia, that a reference to that story appeared in “The Age of Miracles” (as well as being alluded to in “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”). I think it rather weird that I would pick up the one Bradbury story that was mentioned in my first comment.

    Another trivia alert: the day that Ray Bradbury died, there was a “very rare celestial event, a transit of Venus across the Sun.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad this made it through, Kat Lib. Is it my imagination, or does this blog give you more trouble posting your first comment under a new post than posting subsequent comments?

      “The Age of Miracles” sounds REALLY intriguing. Thanks for mentioning it! Definitely sounds like something the great Ray Bradbury could have written.

      I recently read Bradbury’s “All Summer in One Day” online (after you recommended it?) and it’s quite a sad, compelling story. Obviously, some kids can be VERY mean.

      Didn’t know that Bradbury’s death eerily coincided with a rare celestial event. Reminds me a bit of how Mark Twain was born around the time that Halley’s Comet appeared, and died around the time that comet reappeared 75 years later (in 1910).

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      • I’ve yet to figure out why some of my comments aren’t posted, and just when I think I do, they throw me another curve. Fortunately, I now automatically copy everything and as long as I add a different first sentence and paste the rest, it seems to work out as long as I put in a password to log in. Just another of one of life’s little mysteries!

        I think there’s another story having to do with rain and/or sun; but I couldn’t find the book I got recently of Bradbury’s stories. At any rate, he’s such a brilliant writer that it doesn’t seem at all strange that he’s got so many stories about Mars and Venus, etc., that they still ring true, even though we know more now about life (or lack of) on the planets in our solar system since he first started writing about them.

        I always loved the title of his compilation, but was intrigued to find that the title of the book is from W.B Yeats:

        “Though I am old with wandering
        Through hollow lands and hilly lands
        I will find out where she has gone,
        And kiss her lips and take her hands;
        And walk among long dappled grass
        And pluck till time and times are done,
        The silver apples of the moon,
        The golden apples of the sun.”

        Liked by 2 people

        • Sorry about the unpredictability when posting, Kat Lib. 😦 Very smart to copy everything. I used to do that at The Huffington Post — where, as you know, many perfectly fine comments would get spiked or disappear.

          I think you’re right that Ray Bradbury did another story like that, but I can’t think of it either. And, yes, he was a wonderful/fascinating/knowledgeable writer.

          Interesting — another example of a book that takes its title from a memorable line in a previous work! And one can’t go wrong “borrowing” from the eloquent/masterful poet Yeats.

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        • Howdy, Kat Lib!

          — I think there’s another story having to do with rain and/or sun —

          As a Ray Bradbury fan myself, I am wondering whether you are flashing on “The Long Rain” in “The Illustrated Man” . . .

          J.J. (Sans Illustrations)

          Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Yeah, Another Blogger, and thanks for your comment!

      I’ve read a couple of Defoe books — “Robinson Crusoe” and “Moll Flanders” — but not that one. It does sound depressingly compelling. Appreciate you mentioning it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I love how you get me thinking about books I’ve read that align with a theme. What came to mind was Stephen King’s The Stand, about a plague that wiped out nearly everyone. Probably the best of his work that I’ve read. I haven’t read Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior – alas, I need to catch up on her work. I’m sure I have a treat in store if it is as good as her other books.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Shallow Reflections! Discussing novels that align with a theme is definitely what my book blog became after writing the blog for a few months. 🙂

      “The Stand” is an excellent example of a plague novel. One of the Stephen King books I should reread; it’s been decades! Choosing a favorite King novel is tough — “The Stand” is up there, “Misery” is shockingly scary, the masterful/underrated “From a Buick 8” is subtle (by King standards), etc.

      “Flight Behavior” isn’t as good as Barbara Kingsolver’s “Poisonwood Bible” and “Prodigal Summer,” but it’s pretty darn good! Great characters of an unhappy/ambitious woman who lives on a farm and a visiting climate-change scientist.

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  9. Thanks for another good literary puzzler, Dave. The one that has always mildly haunted me is Robert Sheckley’s short story “A Wind is Rising”, first published in Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1957, says the All-knowing Internet. Both a chiller and a long joke with a wicked punchline. Thanks for tickling that memory neuron!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Salvage the Bones is an excellent novel that focuses on Hurricane Katrina. Falling to Earth is another good natural disaster novel. There’s an iterating magical realism novel called The Children’s Hospital about a hospital that is set afloat after an apocalyptic flood.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kira! I just put “Salvage the Bones” on my to-read list. And “The Children’s Hospital” sounds absolutely shocking.

      Speaking of magical realism, the end of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is rather apocalyptic in its way, too.

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  11. Disaster novels remind me of Geraldine Brooks’ A Year of Wonders, a historical novel based on the real life event of an English village infected with plague during the 1400’s (I believe), and the community decided to self-isolate itself, rather than flee and spread the disease.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Suzette! That Geraldine Brooks novel sounds very intense. I’ve read her “March” (I think on your recommendation), and that book was riveting amid its own disaster: America’s Civil War.

      Speaking of plagues, there’s also Edgar Allan Poe’s memorable short story “The Masque of the Red Death.”

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  12. James Michener’s “Hawaii” is ALL about major water events, from the storm-tossed voyages all peoples who arrived at the islands from many different parts of the world. Of note within the narrative are a major hurricane which devastates the islands, especially the settlements of the people from the U.S. mainland, and later in Michener’s story there is a tsunami described in some detail. And I guess considering the locale, watery storms would be a given!

    Liked by 1 person

    • GREAT mention, Susan! That novel sounds as water-filled as they come. Unfortunately, I’ve still only read one Michener work (“Tales of the South Pacific”). I will keep “Hawaii” in mind!

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      • Ha!, well, for two years in a row, I traveled to Hawaii (Kauai), and the first time there was an earthquake in the middle of the night (fortunately not causing any real damage or tsunamis), then a few years later I went with the same people to Orlando for the Super Bowl and there was a tornado just touching down as we were landing. My brother and sister-in-law were somewhat affected by this, but not too much, but the friends we were staying with lost power and when I returned to their home the next day, their 72″ TV had lost power and we ended up watching the Super Bowl on a very, very small screen. To top[ everything off, once we arrived back in Philly there had been a major cold front and my condo had lost heat — it was a very cold night! No wonder they called me “Typhoid Mary.”

        But compared to everything that has occurred in Texas and is beginning to happen in Florida, I’ve got no reason to complain at all!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, just an unfortunate set of coincidences, Kat Lib!

          And, yes, hurricanes Harvey and Irma are off the charts in damage and damage potential. Which reminds me that it’s time to again call my mother, who’s in South Florida (on the East Coast, not the more-endangered Gulf Coast, though the East Coast is getting some hurricane effects).

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          • Yes, Dave, it appears that from what I’ve been watching there’s no good place to be in Florida. I worry somewhat about my brother and his wife, even though they are in the center of the state, not far from Orlando. This is such a monster storm, that my thoughts are from everyone there!

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