[Book Review] Blackwater (Michael McDowell, 1983) ★★★★★

cover Blackwater by Michael McDowell 1983

Blackwater is an epic family saga with river monsters and ghosts, love, death and life itself.

Blackwater is written by Michael McDowell and like his other books falls into the Southern Gothic genre. The story takes place in the fictional town of Perdido in Alabama and is stretched out over 60 years. It’s a family saga about the rich Caskey family, and reads as their chronicle. With emphasis on the family members, their mutual relationships, more unhealthy than healthy, and how the years pass them by. 

It’s written in a pleasant style that encourages to keep reading. With interesting characters, some supernatural hints about ghosts and a main character who actually is a river monster, this book has more to offer than a family chronicle, but excels in both the  genre of the Southern Gothic as the tale about the family you come to love.

The Blackwater series consists of 6 books, ‘The Flood,’ ‘The Levee,’ ‘The House,’ The War,’ ‘The Fortune’ and ‘Rain’ all bundled in one book. Every book introduces new family members, kids that are growing up starting families of their own, in other words, new chapters in the lives of the Caskey family, bringing them new-borns, deaths, new threats,  happiness, misfortunes, fortune and much more. 


In 1919 a flood in Perdido heralds the arrival of a strange woman Elinor Dammert. She is found by Oscar Caskey the youngest son of the richest family in Perdido. When she is found her papers all seemed lost in the river and she is taken in by the Caskey family. While Oscar is very happy about her arrival, some other family members are reluctant to welcome her, especially the matriarch Mary Love Caskey. But the arrival of Elinor brings great prosperity to the Caskeys and the town, as well as some great horrors. 

Why you should read it

Although Elinor is a river monster and sometimes a monstrous killer, this book is more about family, relationships and the Caskey way of life. This is therefore a book recommendable for both lovers of Southern Gothic horror as for lovers of family sagas and enjoy a more soap-like structure. Both will be pleased.

It’s a book to sit back and relax with. It is well-written with a pleasant style, that urges you to read on. The characters are interesting and the story is highly addictive. Romance, feuds, suspense, graphic horror, human evil, the supernatural, it all woven into this gothic journey through life.

There is lots to explore within this complicated family. An uncle James who is a feminine creature who is married to a golddigger Genevieve and has a daughter Grace. Mary Love the strict and harsh matriarch. Her demure daughter Sister and her son Oscar. That’s the whole family when Elinor joins them. 

But with her arrival, she comes to live with James and Grace, marries Oscar and then the family fun really starts. Her feud with Mary Love gets even worse and their battles are a joy to read. When the family expands, with babies, new in-laws, the story expands as well and spreads like a rich stain all over Perdido. 

It’s a book with a story about a family that can go on and on forever. But McDowell knows when to stop at the right time, ending in an almost full circle of life that has a beginning, a middle part and an ending like life itself. 

My favorite part

The parts in which Elinor turns into a river monster and kills for the sake of the family and the town are the horror parts written with great graphic body horror. But that’s not the only horror. Some horrors are done by actual people, bad people who mean the Caskey family great harm. But Elinor will get them and never fails to punish. 

Her actions do have consequences though. Consequences that hide in the closet in the front room in the house that Mary Love had built for Oscar and Elinor. They’re the ghosts  that are trapped and cause some scary and creepy havoc. 

The supernatural hints and scares remind you that it’s not a normal saga you’re reading, but an exceptional one. It’s a long read but very well worth it. And when you finally finish this book, you’d wish it had more chapters of the lives of the Caskeys.

A favorite quote

‘Oscar turned back in order to push off from the concrete casement. He glanced in the window, and then fell back into the boat with a small strangled cry of alarm. In that room, which five seconds before had been patently unoccupied, he had seen a woman. She sat quietly on the edge of the bed with her back to the window. (…) “I have waited and waited,” said the young woman standing in the open window. She was tall, thin, pale, erect, and handsome. Her hair was a kind of muddy red, thick and wound in a loose coil. (…) “Who are you?” said Oscar in wonder. “Elinor Dammert.”’


Rating: ★★★★★

Epic factor: ★★★★★

Drama factor: ★★★★★


Blackwater is written by Michael McDowell and first published in 1983 and republished in 2017 by Valancourt Books. It consists of 895 pages.

Blackwater Michael McDowell, 1983

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