‘The Flood Girls’ by Richard Fifield – this one disappointed me.

‘The Flood Girls’ wasn’t a novel I could trust enough to let it loose in my imagination. All the way through, it felt like propaganda rather than an attempt to tell an honest story. The characters and situations seemed to have been developed to manipulate my emotions and sell a message.

With a lighter touch, I might have relaxed and accepted it as a sort of small-town Montana pantomime with a cast of larger than life characters who left me in no doubt about who to cheer for and who to hiss at.

Except, to me, this read like a more serious book than that. It has its roots in the pain caused by alcoholism, child abuse, poverty, homophobic hate and Christian Fundamentalism.

Part of the message that it was selling was the redemptive power of making amends. Another part was that, while the women in the Flood Girls softball team tend to be rowdy drunks with a habit of casual violence, they’re all softies on the inside, especially once they start to win. These are fine messages in their way but I wasn’t convinced by the main characters. I never got inside their heads and, seen from the outside, their road to redemption seemed a little too smooth.

All of that would normally have just gotten me to shrug, be grateful that there are some good scenes in the book and one or two surprises along the way, but the ending wasn’t something I could just shrug at.

There was a brutal killing. I ought to have been sobbing. The characters ought to have been looking for blood or lost to despair. Instead, I got a symbolic protest and then everyone moved along a healing path. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t buy that sequence of events, it was that I felt the killing was a cheap trick to tug at my emotions.

It could be that if I was from Montana I’d feel differently about the book. Perhaps I’d recognise these people and their problems and see them as normal. Perhaps, if I wasn’t an atheist, I’d be more open to the effectiveness of placing my trust in a higher power and working the Twelve Steps to win back my life. As it was, I felt like I was being covertly pitched something I didn’t want to buy.

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