January 2004

Jessa Crispin

fiction

Deluge by Sidney Fowler Wright

For those who fear and despise technology, there are few options. They could join the Amish. They could live in a small cabin and mail bombs to people. Or they could vent their frustrations by writing out their fantasy of modern civilization being wiped out by a freak oceanic event. Thank goodness Sydney Fowler Wright chose the final path, as we now have the delightful Deluge back in print.

The book opens on this odd storm which remains vague and blessedly free from any attempt at scientific explanation. All we know is that the United States is split in half with the area from the Rockies to the Mississippi now under the ocean, Southern Europe is covered in water, the West Atlantic is a desert, and England, where the book is set, is reduced to a group of small islands. Winds precede the flooding there, and the home of Martin, Helen and their two children is destroyed by falling trees. After their escape, Martin is separated from the rest of his family. Everyone survives, but Helen and Martin both assume the other dead. Martin finds himself surrounded by survivors using the situation as an excuse to rape, plunder, and murder at will. He becomes adept at concealing himself and his shelter while the rogues take control of the area. Once he meets Claire, however, they are discovered by the others and must fight and kill the rest to survive.

Deluge is quite the escapist fantasy. The Biblical allusions are obvious, but instead of erasing sin and degradation (there's certainly a lot of both left after this flood), it's the law, motorcars, the medical establishment, rules of marriage, and civilization in general that the god of this world rids himself of. At times, Wright is nearly giddy at the idea of a cleansed world.

Instead, therefore, of suppressing a nuisance so murderous and so useless (for most of the riders of these vehicles were actuated simply by the desire to escape for a brief interval from the enforced monotony of the mechanical slavery in which they lived, and after rushing over the public roads would return abortively to the place from which they started) by the obvious method of preventing the manufacture of machines of a power and speed which could have no legitimate utility, a system was developed of fining those who committed various technical or other offences against an elaborate system of regulations of little practical value. The money so collected went to swell the huge funds controlled by a complicated system of local bureaucracies.

Somehow these ranting asides add to the enjoyment of the novel, rather than detract from it.

What did detract from the book, however, was the bipolar portrayal of the female characters. Helen and Claire are the most interesting parts of the book. When Helen realizes the flood are headed her way, she picks up her two children though deeply wounded and runs to the river, throwing them and herself onto a boat just moments before the area where she lay is covered. Claire saves her own life by swimming great distances from island to island. She saves Martin's ass more than once as he proves himself to be a sissy time and time again. Claire has more nerve, more sass, and more dimension than any other character in the book. Yet when she is told she must get married to one of the men to protect their new world order, she chooses Martin. Even after learning his wife is still alive, even after nearly getting killed because of him. She doesn't even protest these new laws, nor the fact that these men, who certainly haven't pulled the weight she has, are setting themselves up into positions of power and delegating her to the kitchen. No, at the end she simply decides to share Martin with Helen. Helen simply responds, "Claire will stay here because she is Martin's wife. I am very proud that she is. She is the best of us all. There is no first between us. It is one honour for both." Yeah, right. It is unfortunate that the women had to change from warriors to male fantasies, but the book was written by an Englishman in the 1920s.

Deluge blends survival narrative, speculative fiction and antisocial behavior into a very enjoyable book. This "definitive edition" also comes with a fascinating collection of Unabomber-esque letters Wright was fond of sending to newspapers and other organizations. Once sucked into the book and the glee of destruction, you'll find yourself recreating scenes from the book in your head while in rush hour traffic, grocery store lines, behind screaming children at the movie theatre. Fowler's antisocial tendencies are addictive.

Deluge by Sidney Fowler Wright
Wesleyan University Press
ISBN: 0819566608
390 Pages