Book review: Deluge, by Vincent Meis

meis-delugeMeis, Vincent. Deluge. Palos Verdes, CA: Fallen Bros. Publishing, c2016. 423 p. paperback. ISBN 978-0-9976728-0-0.

Meis’ fourth novel is a rich, complex, and tragic yet hopeful novel of intertwined families, white and black, from Mississippi, then New Orleans and finally the San Francisco Bay Area, where the author now lives.  The author has traveled extensively and lived and worked abroad.  These travels have informed this novel, especially Mexico, Cuba and Barcelona, all of which play prominent roles in the novel.  But the center piece, and the source of the title, is Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  However, much happens before and after that.

White upper-class Byron grows up in small town Columbia, Mississippi where, during high school, he falls in love with African-American Thomas, who mows his family’s lawn.  Thomas is also a prominent and promising football star.  Over time, they become friends and begin to go fishing together.  Eventually Thomas initiates sex.  The last time they are caught by thee rough-neck classmates, who shoot Thomas, then leave him bleeding as they force Byron to flee with them.  Eventually Byron escapes and calls 911, but it is too late, Thomas dies.

This haunts Byron for the rest of his life.  He flees from Tulane University to Mexico, then Cuba, and finally Barcelona where he meets Georgette.  He plots revenge, to force the three murderers to confess, but after he gets their confession, his accomplice, a large black man, returns and kills them.

Byron and his platonic wife Georgette return to New Orleans, where Byron sets up a shop importing ceramics from Spain. Thomas’ family has also left Columbia for the Lower Ninth Ward. Then, Katrina hits.  Byron insists on trying to rescue them, first taking the family to his apartment. When the storm worsens, they escape to a ratty motel in Mississippi, eventually making their way to Byron’s family home.  After the massive flooding, they take a boat back to the Lower Ninth Ward to rescue Thomas’ father, Joe, who refused to leave the home in the first evacuation, but they find him dead.  The description of Katrina’s devastation is riveting.

The second half of the novel focuses on Lamar, Thomas’ nephew, and his family who evacuate to Oakland, California.  Lamar escapes his oppressive family and begins to entertain men with massages, etc.  He is arrested after a lovers’ quarrel, but falls in love with his parole officer, who unknowingly hires him for a massage.  Lamar later becomes a DJ, but loses his sight after he is attacked following a gig. The attack was arranged by an angry homophobic congressman, also a client.  Byron and Georgette come to San Francisco to help out. Around this time, Lamar’s beloved grandmother dies in Mississippi.  He, along with Byron and Georgette, attend her funeral and afterward celebrate her life in a tropical storm as they return to New Orleans.  This is the hopeful ending of the novel as Lamar tells them of his first gig as a blind DJ.

The novel is expertly told in the third person, with a sensitive portrayal of all the main characters.  There is lots of dialogue as well.  The author is especially good at delving into and describing the feelings of these characters.  This is an important novel for collections of modern gay writing, but also for collections of interracial literature.  It is also perfect for readers who like a good read filled with intrigue, including a little violence and lots of tragedy.

James Doig Anderson
Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science, Rutgers University

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