While listening to a reading of “Fear of Rain,” by Robert T. Jeschoneck, I was immediately drawn in by Aphrodite, a girl raised by Mr. Flood to drown Johnstown yet again. I liked that crazy old coot, Mr. Flood. The story is told with wonderful description, vivid magic, and a building tension. And it was nice to hear a story set in Jonestown.
This isn’t exactly the first story to draw on the Johnston flood(s). I first heard of it in Captains Courageous. The one character I remember is Penn, based on a survivor Kipling met, who was driven mad when the dam broke. (Here’s an interesting but long commentary on Kipling’s use of Johnstown.)
As Aphrodite mentions, Jonestown hit the news again in 1977 when heavy rains made the river rise. There were other floods before that, but the big one was in 1889. That was the stuff of nightmares, with repeated surges, trees knocked down, houses swept away with people inside, miles of barbed wire tying debris together, to be heaped up on a dam and catching fire. All capped off with a hideous black mist.
With so much half-remembered darkness in the back of my mind, I expected a story set in a flooding Jonestown to have a bleak, tragic ending. But no. This story felt like it backed away from where it was going, and missed a chance to unleash its full power. Sometimes a happy ending isn’t the right ending.
Now if you want a cheerful story about a flood, read Thurber’s “The Day the Dam Broke,” once you track down a copy of My Life and Hard Times. (Or at least read about it.)