Verdict: What DELUGE lacks in complexity, it more than compensates for in beautiful prose and innovative structure.
Byron Purvis nearly forgets the fateful night of his family’s departure from the cicadas’ foreboding presence, until his teenage years when they once more emerge. It has been fifteen years and Byron has aged out of his youthful enchantment with the creatures and into adolescent fear and cynicism. He has quite a bit to contend with—an ambivalent relationship with his father, a constitutional incapability of fitting in with his high school classmates, and a troubling attraction to none other than Thomas Davis, the strapping, black young man who tends the Purvis family’s yard. Amid the cicadas’ mystical roar, a heinous act of violence tears Byron and Thomas asunder, setting Byron on a lifelong path that will carry him halfway across the world and back …
DELUGE, in the tradition of classic literary works by authors from John Milton to Ernest Hemingway, is arranged like Books of the Bible, in this case two Books titled “Book of Byron” (the first half) and “Book of Lamar” (the second). Each chapter is named for a Biblical occurrence that parallels its events: “Make Thee a Fiery Serpent,” “From the Rib of Adam,” “Betray Me to Mine Enemies.” This structural choice makes for a compelling arrangement of plot, if at times too predictable; familiar, archetypal points include a plague of insects, a flood, and a baptism. Indeed, faith plays a powerful role in the plot, as Byron grows to understand the fruitlessness of revenge, the freedom in letting go and, most importantly, the preciousness of love of all kinds.
Byron and Lamar, the two central protagonists, each suffer distinctly, though both grapple with conflicts of fury and desire. Byron, the white Southerner, balances his ignorance as a man of privilege with an earnest desire to do good. Lamar, Thomas’s nephew, who ages into adulthood as Byron surpasses middle age—DELUGE spans at least twenty years—is a fiery mixture of frustration and hope, struggling with discoveries during his youth that echo Byron’s. Unfortunately, beyond this, we understand little of either man: author Vincent Meis struggles to write round characters. Even the two narrators flatten into stereotypes or woefully uncomplicated figures. Lamar, in particular, is an unfortunate incarnation of the well-worn cliché of the angry black man, disappointingly simplistic.
A new twist on traditional Southern morality tale, DELUGE is contemporary, while significantly maintaining the semblance of an age-old religious text. What the novel lacks in complexity, it more than compensates for in beautiful prose and innovative structure.
~Katy Major for IndieReader