Sometimes you don't have to shout to be heard. Sometimes a whisper is just as powerful. Waiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall is one of those books that resonates with me all the more because of its reflective, quiet tone. For all its short length and its subtle tone, Waiting for the Flood packs a big emotional punch.
Connecting, for lack of a better word, with someone is inherently difficult for Edwin Tully. He's naturally reserved, I think, not flamboyant nor particularly gregarious but not shy. Because of a stutter, certain letters or combinations of letters are almost impossible for him to vocalize, and he loses a certain spontaneity in the way he expresses himself. Twelve years ago, Marius, an up and coming artist, swept Edwin off his feet, but two years ago that ten-year relationship ended, leaving Edwin to deal with the grief, confusion, a profound sense of loss, and the realization that a shared dream really ...wasn't.
For two years Edwin's life has been at a standstill, he's been unable to move forward. Two events coalesce to move him out of this state of quiescence and into the future: a flood threatens his home and a chance meeting with Adam Dacre, an engineer with the Environmental Agency, working to lessen the devastation to the residents in Edwin's neighborhood. Their initial connection over game theory was really great showing Edwin's vulnerability and endearing awkwardness and had me wanting to re-watch 'A Beautiful Mind.'
"Sand and the tragedy of the commons?”
God. Edwin. Do— Something. Anything. “The t-tragedy of the commons. That’s a game th-theory th-th-thing isn’t it?” I asked. Two th’s in close conjunction. What was I thinking? And such a scintillating opener too. (314)
One of my favorite lines from 'A Beautiful Mind' is when Russell Crowe as John Nash gives a speech, a public heartfelt homage to his wife, Alicia, as he accepts the Nobel Prize for Economics:
'I have made the most important discovery of my career, the most important discovery of my life: It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reasons can be found.'
Love is a mysterious equation. Because finding it, keeping it, can be glorious, exciting, thrilling, but losing it can be one of the most emotionally devastating experiences to live through. I completely empathized with Edwin's grief and sense of loss.
Edwin's inherent air of reserve doesn't easily allow people to know him or for him to easily become comfortable with people, and the stutter makes him think (and re-think) every word he says to avoid those verbal pitfalls. Edwin's reserve would never have permitted him the freedom of pursuing Marius when they met so, in a way, Edwin was simply swept away in the tide of fabulousness that was Marius. It was a relationship that fit the both of them at the time - very young, just beginning to explore who they were and before they fully realize who they would become. It made sense, though, that when Edwin gave his heart, it was completely and forever. Sadly, 'forever' turned out to be a lot shorter for Marius than Edwin. The end of his relationship with Marius wasn't a loss as permanent as death or accented with fireworks of explosive arguments because of cheating or betrayal.
It was much quieter than that, as quiet as 'the click of a closing door.'
'He ...f-fell out of love with me. Or didn't love me enough. Or had never been in love with me. Or something. S-so it was over.' (799)
Edwin is such a gentle soul, a character I loved almost immediately, a man who loves to bake and make elderberry wine, whose dreams are simple : someone 'to make tea for. To know how they like to drink it, and share some pieces of time with them at the end of long days, and short ones, good days and bad, and everything in between.' His profession as a book conservator isn't one that screams 'sexy', but is one that's absolutely perfect for a man whose nature is 'to restore lost' beautiful things. Edwin's passion is preserving ephemera 'those frail-legged mayflies, with their lace-and-stained-glass wings, who live only for a day', those bits of ordinary life - 'laundry day and grocer’s bills, dress patterns and crop rotations. The price of tallow.' He is the link between the past and the present just as each of the opening chapters balances between the past and the present, 'linked, for a little while at least, in quietness and time.'
Mrs. P., Edwin's elderly neighbor and closest friend, is another lovely character. It's Mrs. P. who listens to and comforts Edwin after Marius leaves. It's Mrs. P. who offers a friendly 'kick up the arse' at Edwin's inability to move on after Marius.
“It’s d-d-dishonourable to peek at someone else’s cards.”
“Cribbage is cutthroat.” Mrs. P. met my eyes through the muddle of light and shadow. “I’m not trying to upset you. I just think it’s about time you moved on.”
“I have moved on.”
“Have you? Because it looks a lot like standing around to me.”
She's feisty without being annoying, independent, supportive, pragmatic, and funny as hell. She is NOT 'vulnerable'. Not. At. All. But she is a really good friend who knows Edwin needs prodding a little so he'll stop 'standing on the edges of things and worrying,' and just 'walk through them.'
I’m not saying you should marry wossisname. Just give yourself a chance with him.”
“A chance to what?”
“Be with someone again.”
“I w-w-want to,” I whispered. “But what if it goes the same way? W-what if I’m unbeable with?”
“You met someone, you fell in love, you were together a long time, you broke up amicably. That’s not exactly a tragedy.”
“But isn’t that worse? Devastated by not exactly a tragedy?”
“Look—” she sighed, put down her cards, “—the thing is, life is . . . it’s . . . long. And it’s even longer at the beginning. You met Marius at university. You still had shell on. You both did. And you’re thirty now.” (...)
“That’s a lot of living, and a lot of changing, and sometimes love doesn’t change with you.” (587-594)
Which brings us to 'wossisname', the man Mrs. P. urges Edwin to take a chance on, also known as Adam Dacre: civil engineer extraordinaire, giftor of a pair 'clean-ish' spare Wellies to save one's purple glittery cowboy boots, possessor of freckles and dimples, and a sandbag philosopher who's all 'awkward height', 'ungainly limbs stuffed untidily into orange waders and Wellington boots', with hair best described as 'orange, carrot, ginger, marmalade, shining like an amber traffic light, tempting you to try your luck and run', and eyes of the 'plainest, deepest brown, wet earth, almost lightless.' I just fell hard in love with Adam at first, um, sight for so many, many reasons. (Can one fall in love at first 'read'?) I loved that he really listened to Edwin, that he never made Edwin feel less when he tripped over those p's and b's he struggled so hard to articulate, that he was in awe of the artistry involved in Edwin's gift of restoring beautiful 'lost' things, the way he called him 'petal', thought him 'enchanting' and 'adorable, even the appreciative 'nom' sounds Adam made as he munched on Edwin's home baked bread. I loved Adam's generous, open spirit that allowed him to see and appreciate all the lovable aspects in Edwin's personality as well as his openness, his willingness to share the difficult, less-than-perfect parts of himself with Edwin. But most of all I loved his ready laughter, a laughter that invites you to find the funny in the least likely places, laughter that's never cruel or mean or snide or at the expense of someone else, '[t]he sort of laughter I like best, laugher that isn’t really at anyone. Laughter that’s just there, for its own sake, like the touch of a friend, or a lover.'
Edwin's inundated with hurt and disappointment and grief over the loss of Marius and those overwhelming emotions parallel the very real flood right outside his front steps. But the arrival of Adam signals a sea change in Edwin who decides finally he can move forward into a future. I loved Waiting For The Flood. Alexis Hall's voice was exquisite in this very powerful but quiet love story. In fact, I think the story is even more powerful because of it.
'How had I forgotten? How had I become so careless, so cruel, so locked in my own uncertainties? I had allowed hurt to gain such ascendancy over me. Given it so much power. But I had come, at last, in the middle of a flood, to some fresher, deeper truth that was simply this: love is stronger than grief. (1056)
Waiting For The Flood is only 90 pages, but it packs quite a punch, tender in places and poignant at times, but always laced with a thread of humor and wit I have found a trademark in all of Alexis Hall's books. If you haven't read any of his books, this one might be a good place to begin. I can't recommend this highly enough.