This week the 5 of spades led me back to The Best American Short Stories 1964 and to an interesting yet unsatisfying story by Joyce Carol Oates.
"Upon the Sweeping Flood" tells the tale of Walter Stuart, a seemingly mild-mannered man on his way home to his family in the face of an impending hurricane. His car is stopped by a sheriff's deputy and told that he should turn around and go back to town, that it's too dangerous to proceed further. Walter, of course, disregards this advice and pushes on though to the events of the story.
He soon happens upon two youths standing in the middle of the road in front of a farm. There's an unnamed girl whom Walter supposes to be about 18, and a boy, Jackie, who is about 13. They've been left behind at the farm for the last two days by their father, and they are understandably frightened of the approaching storm. They push their way into Walter's car, but then Jackie runs back to the farm to save his horse who is caught out in the field. Walter goes out to help him, the girl follows, but the horse runs away. Now the storm really is bearing down on the trio, so they have no choice but to run inside the house and shelter there.
The floodwaters from the storm begin rising, and start to come into the house. Walter and the two children move to the attic, and then eventually find themselves on the roof, which soon detaches from the house and becomes a raft. They spend the night on the roof, which washes up against a nearby hill by the next morning, when the storm has subsided. They make their way off the roof and find dozens of snakes which have taken shelter on the high ground as well. Walter and Jackie decide to start killing the snakes, but the story takes an even darker turn at this point, and it ends with a shocking and unsettling (and to me, completely unexpected) series of events.
I did not like this story. The writing was compelling and exquisite, as one might expect from a writer of Ms Oates' caliber. The story pulled me along at a rapid pace, and left me wanting to know what happened next. But the climax of the story came completely out of left field for me, and I felt like I suddenly didn't know what was going on, or like I had missed something. Perhaps that was the intended effect. Also, having lived through Hurricane Katrina almost 10 years ago, I found that the descriptions of the storm hit too uncomfortably close to home for me (although I was not stranded by floodwaters on a roof, thank goodness!). I also am pretty unfamiliar with Ms Oates' voluminous body of work, so I have nothing else to judge this story by -- maybe someone else can help out with a comparison in the comments.
The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.