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Blackwater #1-6

Blackwater: The Complete Caskey Family Saga

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Michael McDowell was proclaimed “the finest writer of paperback originals in America” by Stephen King, and “one of the best writers of horror in this country” by Peter Straub.

Now, McDowell’s masterpiece—the serial novel, Blackwater—returns to thrill and terrify a new generation of readers, with all six volumes available for the first time as a single e-book.

Featuring an insightful new introduction by John Langan, Blackwater traces more than fifty years in the lives of the powerful Caskey family of Perdido, Alabama, under the influence of the mysterious and beautiful—but not quite human—Elinor Dammert.

The Flood heralds the arrival of a visitor who will change the Caskey family—and the town—forever…

When the town builds The Levee, it proves a vain attempt to control a horrific power that can never be contained…

The House hides terrible secrets that whisper in closed rooms and scrabble at locked doors…

The War reveals family secrets more deadly and devastating than anything Perdido has ever dreamed in its deepest nightmares…

The Fortune brings happiness and power—but even greater terror…

And finally, the mysterious saga of the Caskey family ends the only way it can—in terrible judgment and fury delivered under the cover of a relentless, earth-shattering Rain.

Will Errickson (Too Much Horror Fiction) writes, “Michael McDowell has written a rich, layered historical novel with many Southern Gothic touches, filled out with memorable characters and satisfying moments of death and shock.”

895 pages, Kindle Edition

First published August 28, 1983

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About the author

Michael McDowell

61 books1,036 followers
Michael McDowell is a prolific horror writer who has distinguished himself with a varied body of work within the genre. He was born in Enterprise, Alabama, in 1950 and died of AIDS-related illness in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1999.

His first horror novel, The Amulet, relates the tragedies that befall various individuals who come in possession of a supernatural pendant in a small town.

In McDowell's second novel, Cold Moon Over Babylon, a murdered woman's corpse is dispatched into a river, but her spirit roams the land, and in the evening hours it seeks revenge on her killer even as he plots the demise of her surviving relatives.

Don D'Ammassa, writing in the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, noted that McDowell's ability to maintain a sense of mundane normalcy against supernatural activity provides the novel with "a fine balance between reality and unreality," and he called Cold Moon Over Babylon "one of the best ghost stories ever written at novel length."

A similarly disturbing tension between dull reality and the supernatural is produced in The Elementals, wherein a host of visitors come to stay at a secluded house occupied by embodiments of elemental forces.

McDowell's Katie, meanwhile, concerns a clairvoyant serial killer whose powers of perception enable her to evade her trackers. The attractive but deranged heroine of this novel manages to conduct her murderous activities despite the awareness of her parents, who are content to derive financial gain from their daughter's crimes.

Madness is central to McDowell's Toplin, which details the vile imaginings of a man who suffers from mental illness but nonetheless determines to conduct himself within society. D'Ammassa praised Toplin as "perhaps the best novel ever written from the point of view of a schizophrenic."

Among McDowell's other writings is the six-part serial novel Blackwater, a chronicle of a southern family drawn to the supernatural. In addition, McDowell has also supplied the screenplays for various films, including director Tim Burton's horror comedy Beetlejuice and his animated production The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Stephen King called McDowell one of the "finest writers of paperback originals in America today." Tabitha King was asked to complete McDowell's unfinished novel Candles Burning, which was published in 2006 to good reviews. Concerning his career, McDowell never tried to be something he wasn't. "I am a commercial writer and I'm proud of that", he said in the book Faces of Fear in 1985. "I am writing things to be put in the bookstore next month. I think it is a mistake to try to write for the ages."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 616 reviews
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books970 followers
April 19, 2019
Blackwater is unlike anything you've ever read, or ever will. Though categorized as a southern gothic and shelved in the horror section (when it's not out-of-print) it defies genre in almost every way. As a character-driven epic spanning multiple generations, it often feels closer to Harper Lee or William Faulkner than Stephen King. But other times, always when you least expect it, it is very much a horror novel. Not King, however, nor Lovecraft. It's a quiet, creeping horror that doesn't exactly feel supernatural. After grounding the reader so firmly in realistic, earthy characters, how can anything--even water monsters and vengeful apparitions--be unreal?

It's also unique for being so damn epic. Originally published in 6 parts, it totals up to nearly 1,200 pages or 30 hours on audio. Thankfully Valancourt Books has reprinted the saga as a single volume so you don't have to hunt down each individual book on eBay.

There's so much more I want to say, but the less you know the better. It's one of those books that doesn't just make you want to turn the page, it makes you utterly desperate to find out what happens next, as if your life depends upon it. When I was almost done, I considered calling in sick because I was afraid I might die in a car crash before finding out how Blackwater ends. It's that good.
Profile Image for Char.
1,682 reviews1,557 followers
October 6, 2021
2nd time listening to the audio complete. Everything I've said previously still stands. My original review is below.

Blackwater: The Complete Saga on audio is absolutely phenomenal! Phenomenal! That's right, it's so good, it deserves two PHENOMENALS.

First-about the book itself. Michael McDowell was a force to be reckoned with as far as writing about family dynamics. If you've read The Elementals, Gilded Needles, or Cold Moon over Babylon, (and if you haven't you SHOULD), you already know that McDowell writes about families like no one else. Now imagine those books expanded to cover several generations of one family, in this case The Caskeys, and you might have an inkling of how great a work of literature, (that's right, I'm calling it literature), Blackwater really is.

Starting with a huge flood in Perdido, Alabama and a mysterious woman found in a partially flooded hotel and ending with another flood in the same town, there is a symmetry here not often found in horror fiction. Perhaps it's because Blackwater isn't really a horror novel, (or series of novels, as it was originally released back in the 80's), at all. I would describe it more as a Southern Gothic soap opera or family saga, with supernatural and horrific elements.

One of the things I adore about McDowell, and there are many of them, (click http://charlene.booklikes.com/post/13... for my essay on McDowell's work), is how he treats horrifying supernatural events as if they were no big deal. Somehow, the way he does that makes the event even more horrifying, if that makes any sense.

Of course, as I mentioned above, McDowell writes family dynamics like no one else and this book proves it. Throughout generations even, McDowell is at the top of his game writing about this family with its rich men and domineering women. Being from Alabama himself, the authenticity of the family's bearing and standing in their community of Perdido is never in doubt. His insights into human behavior are unmatched and beautifully written-without fail. Here's a quote from the first book of this novel,The Flood, (which takes place in the early 1920's):

"That was the great misconception about men: because they dealt with money, because they could hire someone on and later fire him, because they alone filled state assemblies and were elected congressional representatives, everyone thought they had power. Yet all the hiring and firing, the land deals and the lumber contracts, the complicated process for putting through a constitutional amendment-these were only bluster. They were blinds to disguise the fact of men's real powerlessness in life. Men controlled the legislatures, but when it came down to it, they didn't control themselves. Men had failed to study their own minds sufficiently, and because of this failure they were at the mercy of fleeting passions; men, much more than women, were moved by petty jealousies and the desire for petty revenges. Because they enjoyed their enormous but superficial power, men had never been forced to know themselves the way that women, in their adversity and superficial subservience, had been forced to learn about the workings of their brains and their emotions."

I could go on and on about McDowell, as many of you already know, but now I'd like to address the narration of this story by Alabama native Matt Godfrey.

I just don't have the words to describe how McDowell's words, combined with Godfrey's narration, made me feel. Together, they made a great work even greater. Godfrey's voicing was so true to the source material it made the Caskey voices come alive. ALIVE, I say! I laughed out loud many times, and I cried a few times too.

I most especially adored his voicing of James and of Oscar. Don't get me wrong, I loved these characters back when I first read the books a few years ago; but with Matt's voice attached to them, they became larger than life. It was easy for me to recognize who was talking just by the inflections and changes of tone. I've never listened to an audio book where it was easier for me to identify who was who, just by how the narrator voiced them. I've listened to a lot of audios over the last few years, and that's never happened to me-at least not in a book with as many characters as Blackwater. That's why I say now, with no reservations, that this is the BEST audiobook I've ever read. PERIOD.

I hope that I've convinced you to give this audio a try by giving it my HIGHEST recommendation. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it if you do give it a go.

You can get your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07...

*I received this audiobook free, from the narrator, in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.* **Further, I consider Matt Godfrey a friend, even thought we've never met, but this review IS my honest opinion.**
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
January 29, 2018
When Oscar Caskey finds the mysterious Elinor Dammert on the second floor of a hotel during a great flood, he brings her home and falls in love with her. But Elinor isn't what she seems and Mary-Love, Oscar's mother and matriarch of the Caskey clan, doesn't want Oscar marrying her...

That's the setup but it's just scratching the surface. How do you write a teaser for an 800 page epic?

My cohort Anthony Vacca recommended this and Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction agreed with him. They both undersold it.

While Michael McDowell is primarily known as a horror writer and Blackwater definitely has scenes of horror in it, it's a sprawling family epic more than anything else. Oscar Caskey rescuing Elinor and bringing her back to his family kicks off an epic that spans three generations, starting in 1919 and ending during the 1960s.

Released as six novellas during the horror boom of the 1970s, Blackwater is a slow burn, the characters and their machinations taking center stage. It reminds me of The Pillars of the Earth in some ways. Painstaking time is taken to flesh out the Caskeys and their extended clan and the lumber business. The book is a comedy of manners at times, family drama at others, and the undercurrent of horror is lurking in the background, waiting to tear the arms off of some poor sucker at any moment.

The book primarily features conflict between strong female characters, first between Mary-Love and Elinor, and the conflict is carried on down the line. It could easily be a great historical novel if Elinor wasn't a man-eating river monster in disguise. All the maneuverings reminded me of Game of Thrones, only played out in an Alabama river town over the course of three generations.

The cast is richly developed and I unexpectedly started caring a little too much for this rich Southern family and their lumber business. The twists kept me thinking about the book when I wasn't reading it. The deaths were pretty sad, even Mary-Love's, even though she'd had it coming for a couple decades at that point.

There's so much I want to say but I don't want to spoil anything. This beast was 800 pages long but I would have gladly read 800 more. That's how enthralled I was by the saga of the Caskey clan. It's a crime that this book has been forgotten over the years. I'll read it on my kindle but I'll probably buy a hardcover just to keep on a shelf someplace. Five out of five stars.
Profile Image for Jen - The Tolkien Gal.
458 reviews4,464 followers
September 22, 2018
And so this is going in my top ten books of all time

I cannot tell you how this series has kept me going after the past few months yet made me cry so much. Review to come

It begins with:
Image result for blackwater saga

And ends with:
Image result for blackwater saga

Thanks for the recommendation from the lovely Char (and my mother in-law)
Profile Image for Trish.
2,019 reviews3,436 followers
July 12, 2019
This was ... epic. There are a few family sagas out there in book format and I'm usually not all too interested in them. This one, however, promised to be a horror story besides and it was about a little town in Alabama surrounded by swamp and mystery (perfect theme to read about in summer). Let me say it right at the beginning: this is NOT a horror story. Not really. Did that mar my enjoyment? Not one bit!

We start in 1919 when a flood has destroyed much in the little town of Perdido, Alabama. A hotel has been evacuated but when the son of a wealthy matron and a black servant drive by the halfway submerged hotel in their little boat, they discover a young woman in one of the rooms. After "rescuing" her, she (Elinor) is introduced to the family and town and decides to stay.
At this point, the family consists chiefly of Marie-Love (the afore-mentioned matron), as well as James (Marie-Love's brother-in-law), Grace (James' daughter), Oscar (Marie-Love's son), and "Sister" (just her call-name but still weird, Marie-Love's daughter). Marie-Love is a widow, James is married but his wife is usually drunk out of her mind and living in Nashville.
Two of the three lumber mills in Perdido belong to Marie-Love and James so you can imagine the family's status in the small town.
For some in the family, Elinor's arrival is a blessing. Others regard her as a threat.
We thus follow the family as they grow both in family members as well as wealth and see the history of this exemplary little town in the American South throughout many years. The story, therefore, is as much about the life in such a small town, the different characters populating the country throughout the decades, the individual family members, and the business itself. We see evolution and change, happy and sad moments. The author didn't shy away from showing the ugliness of racial clashes (though only tangentially, the family itself is nice to their servants at least), rape and even addressed different kinds of sexuality (considering the time this was written in and the family he apparently grew up with himself, that is remarkable).

Overall, there is a slight supernatural twist to this that the author isn't really making a mystery about. The reader is shown early on who the supernatural element is and even what (at least to a degree). This supernatural seed is growing in the Perdido river, triggering a number of events, some of which I did see coming and some of which I didn't expect.

Sometimes it was a bit weird what these people considered normal and how nobody investigated but simply accepted as given. This, as far as the author showed, was not due to a supernatural influence so it says a lot about people's mentality.

The only thing really "horror" about this story was how these people swapped babies around because they couldn't live in a house without one. Sheesh! However, that was a nice bridge to telling of family expectations and the pressure put onto the respective next generation. Nevertheless, it was crazy!

Sadly, due to certain real-life relatives (mine), I can attest to some people actually being like Marie-Love. Pretending they do what they do because they want best and know best and they'll crush you if you oppose them because it's really only about what they want, no matter who they hurt.
So yeah, there was certainly quite a lot of drama, at least until , but it was still not marring my enjoyment of the book for some reason. Regardless of all the schemes and machinations, I usually couldn't wait to see new family members and find out how they would get along, what they would end up doing, what was to become of the Caskeys.

The writing style was fluent, usually placid and not very sensationalist. Some might even say it's too mild or "boring", but I'd have to disagree. Even the most shocking events were told in a way that made me feel as if the southern heat had gotten to me. And yes, I do think that was done on purpose and I think it worked rather well.
Profile Image for Emma.
207 reviews118 followers
October 5, 2017
River monster crawls out of river, marries scion of rich Southern family, embroils self in soap opera family shenanigans, occasionally tears townspeople limb from limb. It's the GREAAATESTTT
Profile Image for Dylan.
234 reviews
December 26, 2022
“the finest writer of paperback originals in America” by Stephen King

“one of the best writers of horror in this country” by Peter Straub.

Blackwater is an epic gothic southern family saga, that spans generations. It’s truly a unique piece of art that you will only experience from the master of his craft, Michael McDowell. The author earned a PhD from Brandeis in the literature of the nineteenth century, and he bloody earned it. During the 1980s he was a part of a group of writers (Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Ramsey Campbell) who attempted to renovate the horror novel drawn from the literary mainstream. It allowed him to take the horror genre in new directions.

As John Langan states in his essay about the subject:

The form moved towards a deeper engagement with the world into which its horrific elements intrude. It traced with greater precision the emotional and intellectual responses of its characters to that intrusion. It evoked more of the ways in which the horror’s disruption might be made manifest.

There are reviews (or critiques) stating it’s misleading to call this a horror novel. That is both true and false at the same time. Like how the Gormenghast trilogy is a fantasy series despite containing no magical elements, Blackwater is in the same vein as a horror book. The horror mainly stems from the character interactions and the family drama associated with it. The horror feels a lot more relatable as it’s so human, we suffer in a similar vein as the characters in the Caskey family. It’s so evocative it’s difficult to describe it. Characters on paper shouldn’t be likable, or lovable because of the immoral sins certain characters conduct yet you get entranced and manage to love them. I love Oscar, Elinor, James, Queenie, Danjo, Lucille, Grace, Miriam, Zaddie, Frances, and even Sister (Elvennia). The character that was hard for me to love was Mary Love, in terms of legitimate crimes she’s less guilty than certain other characters, yet certain actions done by her throughout the narrative were tough to read. She is one of the most realistic individuals you will read about in a fictional book. Parents sometimes not deliberately portraying themselves in a less ideal manner.

It's evident that Michael McDowell based many of these characters on his personal experience. They are too alive to think otherwise, the man was born in Alabama, and it felt authentic. The depictions of the depression, World War I and other important events that affected the American life impacted this small town of Perdido, Alabama. Beyond the family dramas and horrific deaths, the slice-of-life scenes that are scattered throughout are bloody amazing. He captures the mundane of life beautifully. This book is a generational novel, so, some sacrifices must be made appropriately. This should be a limitation, yet it’s paced so wonderfully. The amount of depth he gives in a single chapter is surreal. He knows how to capture important moments of characters' lives, giving implied characterisation, knowing how to do multiple-year transitions smoothly without feeling like you missed a lot. From the characters serving food, hanging on the beach, going to school, working in the office, working on a farm and being a housewife. The mundane elements of life are depicted with such vividness. I genuinely, loved these characters, their interactions, and the dialogue associated with them all qualities are excellent and consistently engaging.

The key takeaway of the plot is knowing it’s a generational novel spanning decades and witnessing the Caskey family. There are many themes Blackwater tackles. Such as the core elements associated with the Southern Gothic subgenre are tackled here. From the decline of Southern aristocracy, the nature of wealth (and power), and the impact of the Civil War and reconstruction on Southern society. The latter element is so fascinating, the social divide between Native Americans to other Americans is tackled in a tasteful and nuanced fashion, it’s not at the focus which I argue is even more effective. Life after slavery is a tragedy, I had some preconceptions of what life would be like after the Civil War but the most surprising thing, almost nothing changed. The native Americans are just paid very low, there’s casual racism from characters (not all some are very considerate), the lack of learning opportunities there are so many little things that you ponder upon as we are not so far removed from that past. Despite slavery being illegal, there were still servants acting in similar roles. I found this method being in the background to be more nuanced, and subtle and allowed the reader to ponder. To not be forced to think about certain ideas but allowing the reader to question never dumbing it down.

Other themes include the role of women, tradition and family and facing the changing world of the 20th century. So yeah, what was one of the most fascinating elements was how prominent and progressive the female characters were in the story. Genuinely Michael McDowell understands people and explores what life would be like as a woman during this era. There were the ones who were making vital changes to society, it never undermined it for the male characters it’s just so female dominated it's very fascinating. Tradition and family are so deeply enrooted with Blackwater and explore those subjects extensively. There was many other fundamental such as environmentalism, innocence, and others of that nature. It covers a broad subject due to its framing. The last fundamental I won’t go into would be the exploitation of children. Not in the nature as you are thinking reading this review, but in more subtle ways. Simply put it's an important topic explored within the whole context of the novel. It’s handled in a somewhat terrifying manner.

I believe Michael McDowell did his research extensively as it felt so authentic and felt like being transported in this era in history. He understood the political ramification with some nuance, and the prose I found to be efficient, enchanting and beautiful. It’s so well utilised. Whenever there’s a horrific moment of a supernatural nature or concerning death, the prose becomes so poetic and vivid. It’s enchanting, it engrosses you and immerses you in the horrific nightmare of certain events. Even more so as these are characters that you genuinely love by the end. Some people refer to it akin to William Faulkner, I cannot comment on that comparison just beyond it being written well.

The supernatural elements are excellent, generally, it’s in small doses, but it is effective every time. The atmosphere I thought to be engrossing and the birds' eye view chapters were insightful. It’s viewing certain events from a global perspective and making Perdido more alive in the process.

In Conclusion, Blackwater is a bloody masterpiece of Southern Gothic historical fiction. From intricate family dramas that span decades, beautiful slice of life, brilliant characters, masterfully crafted character dynamics and so much more described above. It’s an introspective look at life from 1919 onwards in Perdido Alabama. It’s often uneasy due to supernatural elements. It's best to think this is a generational novel that happens to have supernatural elements instead of a horror book and you will have a blast. This is a novel I’ve reflected upon for a while and it’s difficult to articulate my love for this book, but I hope I did a good job. Please read Blackwater by Michael McDowell it’s worth it.


Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,105 followers
July 12, 2019
Epic Southern Family Sagas generally automatically qualify as a Horror genre. IMHO. Deeply creepy, sometimes charming, often batshit crazy, and interspersed with WTF. That's just my normal reaction, however.

Blackwater, on the other hand, raises the water to a new level.

I'm not saying this is all that scary, despite King and Straub lauding this serial novel (combined here as one long novel). But all the elements are here. We're meant to love or really, really hate the characters for their actions and grievances. When the violence comes, it is swift and merciless and sometimes quite creepy. The real charm is in how well written it is.

I was reminded -- quite fondly -- of The House of the Spirits, only rely on a somewhat horrific supernatural element instead. I'm thinking maybe a marid. :) Definitely a powerful water-based beasty. But here's the kicker... the supernatural is never the focus, merely a spice. The family is the meat. Sometimes literally.

I had a really great time with this, and I can't always say that about epic family dramas. Sometimes I get annoyed with them and just want the whole thing to just wrap up, but that was never the case with this one. McDowell never kept us in suspense about the big stuff. We knew how this would end and he delivered in style. It started with a flood and ended in one. :)

So what makes this really stand out from all the other epic family dramas? Southern included?

The children. The children are always the key. I think I may have been more horrified by how they treat the children than any other reason. Not that they were abused... particularly... but how they were all bargaining chips, even a barter system. And here's the weird bit: no matter how horrible the first event was, it actually made a lot of sense in the later incarnations. People are people. Some people don't want the 'extras' but there were lots in the family who wanted a baby. Sometimes this works out well, sometimes it's just horrific. But when I started sympathizing with and appreciating the concept, that's where I really started getting creeped out. It actually started to make a lot of wicked sense. *shiver*

I totally recommend this for all you family saga fans. :)
Profile Image for Auđur.
228 reviews25 followers
July 20, 2022
This book is phenomenal and I think it is one of the best books I have ever read. If I could give it more stars 🌟 I would. Michael McDowell is and always will be one of my fav authors and Black Water I have to say is his masterpiece. The writing is on another level and Michael held me captivated in the town of Perdido with the Caskeys through all 788 pages 📖❤️ I can not recommend this enough.
Profile Image for Nancy.
271 reviews48 followers
December 19, 2018
More than 5 stars! Both listened to and read this Saga. Audio is about 30 hours and paperback is 788 pages comprised of 85 chapters of tiny print. I am someone that speeds through long books and avoids tiny print at any cost; but on this one I did a 180. I loved this book and thank Char for introducing me to it through her review and recommendation. For this book, I savored every page and the closer I got to the ending, the more I dreaded it was about to be over for I would no longer know the Caskey family from Perdido, Alabama. Half-way through the book I researched Michael McDowell (who I thought was alive) and found he had passed away in 1999 at 49. This saddened me because this book and "The Elementals" are brilliant works and the book community lost so much.

"Blackwater" is a supernatural story; however, the supernatural aspects are more a backdrop than the focus of the story. In the last third of the book the supernatural ramps up and is so well written that I woke one morning from a dream that had taken me into the story and filled me with fear. Few books have been able to do that and, once I had gathered my wits, I loved it was able to effect me like that. Still spooked me though. But the focus of the book is the story of the Caskeys, Perdido's most prominent family. Most of all, it is the story of how a river monster disguised herself as a woman and married into the family, eventually becoming its matriarch, and guiding its members to their varied fates, for good and for ill. It is one of the most striking and ambitious horror novels that has languished in almost complete obscurity until recently. I would never have known about this book if it weren't for Goodreads and its great reviewers.

One final note: the Audible version is exceptional! Alabama native Matt Godfrey brings the story alive and does all voices so well you know exactly who is speaking. He especially does James and Elinor Caskey beautifully. Highly recommend the audio edition of this Saga.
Profile Image for Dean.
441 reviews120 followers
June 23, 2019
Blackwater by Michael McDowell is much more than a horror novel!!
He has created an atmospheric and dense Southern gothic..
With believable characters full of life!!

Published 1983 and released in six monthly installments..

Welcome in Perdido Alabama!!
Perdido is a little southern town in the early-to-mid 20th century..

Like the tv series Dallas or Falcon Crest, both family sagas, so is Blackwater a Southern family saga!!
Blackwater tells the story of the rich and powerful Caskey clan..

The focus of the novel lies on Elinor Dammert..

After Perdido has been flooded by the river, Elinor is discovered stranded in an hotel!!

Elinor has a dark side and a terrifying nature which will be revealed further on..
She has the habit of killing children and partially to eat them..

And like any small town, so has Perdido his secrets too!!
But this secrets involves river monsters!!
Haunted houses and mysterious apparitions!!

Although containing explicit horror elements and gruesome descriptions, McDowell manages to deal with interesting and heavy themes!!

Like homosexual relationships..
And in his novel are the women which holds absolute social power!!

Friends, I loved it!!!
It kept me turning the pages..
Never dull or boring..
Full of unexpected turns and masterfully wrapped up at the end!!

Happy reading

Profile Image for MadameD.
452 reviews14 followers
June 4, 2023

Story 5/5
Narration 5/5

Blackwater by Michael McDowell is a very well written Saga.
I loved the story and the characters, even the despicable Mary-Love. A good story needs an awful villain. I’ll miss Elinor and all the Caskey Family.
The audiobook is very good!
I highly recommend it!
Profile Image for Michelle {Book Hangovers}.
455 reviews190 followers
February 4, 2022
5 Bajillion Stars!!

I can’t even fathom how to write a review at this moment. What I need to do at this time is sit back and soak it all in. Which means, I’m going to bury my head into my pillow and just sob for a while. Once this book-hangover passes, I will be back with a review for this INCREDIBLE masterpiece!
Profile Image for Roxie Voorhees.
Author 17 books108 followers
August 4, 2020

“She hates that levee the way you and I hate hell and the Republicans.”

In another Southern Gothic classic, McDowell paints quite a picture. Surrounded by swampy lands and wrap around porches, the Caskey family takes in a stranger after a flood in 1919.  This stranger, Elinor, changes this family; changes it for the better. But she has a secret that she can't even tell her new husband, Oscar.

The Saga spans over 50 years and four generations. The family survives the Great Depression, the Second World War, and even a few personal tragedies. There are ups and there are lows, but one thing is for sure, the women of the Caskey clan sure do take care of business.

The whole saga includes serious topics like race, misogyny, rape, and homosexuality, with such kindness and care for the period and location, I was genuinely surprised.  This family may not be perfect, but they stick together through anything.

Normally I wouldn't care for such a slow burn.  I like action and getting to the big bad, yet I couldn't put this down! I was so interested in the family and their closeness that I didn't care too much when horrific things weren't happening.  When they did happen, they were without mercy and soaked in blood.  Overall, I laughed often, got angry, and even cried.

This is my third McDowell novel and as with the others, I can't say enough good things without spoilers. So go read this!
Profile Image for Tom Mathews.
688 reviews
July 11, 2019
I'm a big fan of the late Michael McDowell, which probably explains why I would be willing to tackle this 800+ page southern gothic tome. I'm very glad I did. In Blackwater, McDowell tells the lives of four generations of the Caskey family of Perdido, Alabama. The story centers on Eleanor Caskey, a woman who appeared mysteriously during a catastrophic flood in 1919 and died half a century later during the next flood to destroy Perdido. Readers come to know intimately all of the members of the Caskey family. Some of them are a real pleasure to get to know but others leave me glad that they aren't members of my family.

Bottom line: Taking the time to read this book requires a commitment. If you do, though, you will find that the pages fly by and you will not regret your decision. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Zanahoria.
132 reviews16 followers
August 16, 2022
Came for the monster suspense, stayed for the family drama. More emotive than I expected on the whole and so good.

And after all, what big family does not have a monster as member and a couple of ghosts hidden in some closet. Very nice mirror bookending.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,018 reviews1,184 followers
October 30, 2022
Maybe this book is a case of the “it’s not you, it’s me”… Every review I see is over the moon enthusiastic, and here I am with my lukewarm “I liked it!”. And I did, I really did! Just not as much as I thought I would. And believe me, I live for fucked up family sagas and monster stories, so I can’t exactly put my finger on what went wrong here.

The small town of Perdido, Alabama is almost entirely flooded after a big storm, and once the rain stops, young Oscar Caskey goes around the town in his little boat to see if anything can be salvaged, or anyone rescued. That is show he comes to meet the mysterious Elinor, who seems to have escaped the waters by staying put on the second floor of the hotel she was staying at. When Oscar finds her, she is neither wet, nor starving, nor afraid. Almost as if she knew he’d be there soon to rescue her. And thus begins the long saga of Elinor’s life and how she joins the Caskey family. I won’t try to summarize the 800 pages story, separated into six novellas. It spans the first half of the twentieth century and four generations of Caskeys, their fortunes and misadventures, their strange lives and their sometimes even stranger deaths.

The prose is nice, but it didn’t blow my socks off, and the pacing is strong, keeping up a really good rhythm that made me look forward to every new corner this strange story would take. But I didn’t warm up to any of the characters, with the notable exception of Frances (more on her a bit later), and the horror elements were a little too quaint for me. I know I have a tough hide when it comes to creepy stuff, but I struggled to lose myself in the atmosphere of this book.

One thing that I can give McDowell entirely is that he is amazing at building dysfunctional family relationships. If there is a proper monster in this story, it’s Mary-Love Caskey, the matriarch who governs her family with an iron grip and does not like it one bit when Elinor shows up and shakes up the established order of things. The way she controls, manipulates and drives everyone crazy actually felt too realistic for comfort at times, and I have to wonder what kind of woman McDowell’s mother was like.

The only character I really warmed to was Frances Caskey, and even then, I only started finding her interesting when she began becoming more aware of her nature and realizing who she really is. I would have loved it if this aspect of the story had been explored more deeply, but that thread of the tapestry was snipped off much too soon for my taste.

I think that the label of “Southern Gothic family saga” had me expecting something more along the lines of Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches saga, and “Blackwater” turned out to be a lot quainter than what I had been looking forward to. It will be a 3-star read for me, mostly because I think it’s unlikely I will revisit it in the future, but I see why is it as beloved as it is.
Profile Image for David.
497 reviews70 followers
August 22, 2023
Southern gothic horror fans, rejoice! This one's a corker! An almost-800 page corker. ("800 pages?!" I heard that.) Yes, it's long but the good news there is that the pages fly. I occasionally had to slow myself down; otherwise, it would have been like facing a lineup of banana splits, consumed ravenously one after the other.

~ which is not to say there's no meat here. There's a ton of it. It's a pretty hefty story. 

'Blackwater' is one of those wonderful the-less-said-about-it-the-better books. All you really need to know (since the genre is already telling you what basically to expect) is that you will be reading a family saga set in Alabama, taking place more or less from the turn of the last century through to the '70s. It's an ambitious, business family headed by a tough-as-they-come matriarch (imagine a demented Marjorie Main). And a mysterious young woman enters their lives. She will very quickly work her upwardly mobile way into the lives of the family. 

Yes, there's horror... on the back burner of the story. Awful things happen - revealing two separate (usually but not always) malevolent forces. But the main thrust of the novel is the family politics - which play out sort of in the way that a woman's picture of the '40s might. Imagine something along the lines of 'The Little Foxes'. 

Considering the specific atmosphere of the drama, it's no surprise that Michael McDowell was a gay man. (He even includes a rather terrific depiction of a solid lesbian relationship. But then... 'Blackwater' has no shortage of strong female characters.) Stephen King once called McDowell "the finest writer of paperback originals in America today". It makes complete sense that King took to McDowell so easily and deeply. In significant ways, McDowell writes like King - well, if King were a gay man. 

(I'm not saying the novel is overtly gay; it isn't. I'm referring to its sensibility.) 

Regarding himself, McDowell once said, "I am a commercial writer and I'm proud of that. I am writing things to be put in the bookstore next month. I think it is a mistake to try to write for the ages." Yet, his work - recently made available again thanks to Valancourt Books - feels strong enough for the ages. He's a marvelous writer and he has more than considerable skill. His writing is vivid, immensely engaging - even, at times, very funny. Some may put it another way: he spins a great yarn. 

'Blackwater' was originally published in 1983 as a series of 6 short books which were released once a month. Those volumes are now available in one compact edition. 

I hadn't read McDowell's work before - but I have now picked up some of his other titles and very much look forward to further exploration.
Profile Image for Anthony Vacca.
423 reviews284 followers
January 24, 2018
Truly a Southern Gothic epic, replete with generations of likable characters, vengeful ghosts and an amphibian femme fatale. This wonderful novel, first published in serial format, has received new interest thanks to Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction. And now Valancourt rewards us all with a lovely new collected edition! My reviews for each of the six installments can be found below:

The Flood
The Levee
The House
The War
The Fortune
Profile Image for Angus McKeogh.
1,108 reviews56 followers
September 8, 2019
First thing I’ll say is wow this was long but it really is a six-novel series mashed into one. It was also my first McDowell. Supposed to be Southern Gothic in tradition. But the best I can figure is Southern Gothic means uneventful with a sprinkling of supernatural events. Not scary by any means so I wouldn’t suggest it as horror fiction which I’ll admit was kind of what I was thinking going in. Reads like a mishmash between The Shape of Water and The Thornbirds. And I’ll say it wasn’t ever terrible. The writing was good and the story was well told and linear. But I was constantly waiting for something really exciting to happen. And at 895 pages that was a long wait. Just okay. I was hoping it’d blow my socks off but alas they’re still securely on my feet.
Profile Image for Linh.
228 reviews11 followers
May 15, 2023
One of the best books I've ever read. Truly, Michael McDowell writes the finest southern gothic horror ever.

Does anybody else find that it is much easier to review books that you don't like, as compared to those that you can't even pick one thing to complain about?! That's why I'm finding so much difficulty in writing down my thoughts for Blackwater.

I didn't just read Blackwater. I felt like I was immersed in this saga; felt like I was living in the small town of Perdido, and seeing life through the eyes of the Caskeys and the Sapps. Every single character was nuanced, complex, and intensely interesting. Especially the female characters. Elinor Caskey is one motherfucking badass monster lady. 🖤🖤

I'd give this book a 10 stars out of 5 if I could!
Profile Image for Bill.
1,592 reviews113 followers
April 4, 2018
This is a fine example of an epic, historical, Southern Gothic, supernatural, generational family drama, noir, soap opera, mystery, thriller with a bit of horror sprinkled on top.
Profile Image for Bill.
948 reviews316 followers
July 14, 2019
Overall, I'm giving the series 4 stars, and a short review.

From the onset, the Blackwater series was right up my alley: southern family saga, and for a bit of fun, throw a swamp monster into the mix.

The series had some ebbs and flows for me. Book one was a very strong start, and through book three, the family story was quite interesting. Of course, the most interesting thing was the anticipation of how this was all going to pan out. Which is why this didn't maintain the 5 star status I had going for the first half of the series.
I found book four to be quite slow and dull, but thankfully things got interesting again through book 5.
Book 6: This is where my disappointment came into play. While I did like the overall ending of the book, it sure took a long time to get there. Even though this, as the others, was under 200 pages, I found a lot of it to be a slog and I was impatient to finish.
This may be due to the fact that I read all six novels back-to-back, when perhaps it would have been more effective to space these out in the spirit a serialized series is meant to be.

Regardless, I did what I did, and found the journey to the end a bit too long in the tooth.

As a side note, a few thoughts occurred to me while reading the series:

This would make an incredible TV series.

The writing reminded me a lot of Jeffery Archer's style (note, I've only read one book of his, but...) : while I became very familiar with the characters, I didn't find there was a whole lot of depth to many of them. Familiarity was gained by exposure to them and how the story carried them along. The characters that were fleshed out better were known through dialogue, which, at times, was where McDowell really excelled.
Having said that, there were times when the narrative really shined, and these were the creepier (and most integral) parts of the story.

So, the four stars here is indicative of the strength of story idea, dialogue, and creepy parts that will take a while to forget.
It's too bad I was disappointed with some of the pacing, but no regrets overall.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,384 reviews1,650 followers
November 2, 2021
Sigh. Despite this being called "Pants-shittingly awesome" by one of my friends, and having high reviews from all of my other friends who have read it, it just didn't do anything for me at all. I've technically been trying to read it since October 18th, and getting nowhere. Then I thought that I would officially put it on my Currently Reading shelf and maybe that would kick my butt into gear... but no. Now it just means that I have to take it back off, because I don't really wanna read it, and can't see myself wanting to read it at any point in the future either.

I made it about 10% into this, and I just couldn't figure it out. I just never really felt like I knew what it was supposed to be. I understood going in that this was supposed to be a family saga with horror elements... but there have only been two points that I could say anything 'horrory' happened so far, and both were pretty meh. The first was interesting only because it was a reveal that (obviously) this stranger has something weird about her, but the second was so fade-to-black, so euphemistically written, that I had to read it three times to be clear on what was being hinted at (that she ate the kid). As a family saga type story, it felt almost parody-like. Like... tongue-in-cheek family drama where I just kept waiting on a punchline that would never come. And it all felt so... same same. This happened, and then that happened, but nothing changes or... happens.

I only made it 10% in, but I was already checked out long before I got there. I just wanted to try to push through to at least the end of the first novella, and I couldn't even do that. I'm just not the audience for this one.

Sorry to all the peeps I know who loved this. I read it wrong, I'm certain, and I humbly beg your forgiveness for my many flaws and erroneous ways.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books348 followers
November 3, 2018
Y'all, this is a Southern Gothic to drown all other Southern Gothics in a bathtub full of muddy river water.

Originally a six-novel serial published back in the early 80s, during the heyday of the cheap horror paperbacks, the Caskey Family saga begins on Easter Sunday, 1919, and the great flood that nearly wipes out the small town of Perdido, Alabama. This is when Elinor Dammert appears — a mysterious young woman who just happens to be sitting in the upper floor of the flooded Osceola Hotel in downtown Perdido when Oscar Caskey and his loyal Negro employee Bray row by. As if she were just sitting there waiting for them, even though the town had been evacuated days ago and she would have had no food or clean water for days.

The Flood

The Caskeys are rich, owning several wood mills on the river, but right from the beginning Elinor makes clear that her intention is to make them more rich — richer than any of them could ever imagine. Without a history and only the flimsiest of explanations, Elinor soon worms her way into the Caskey family, marrying James's son Oscar and setting herself against the family matriarch, Mary-Love Caskey, against whom Elinor will wage war for the next few decades.

"I knew she would do it, worm her way in. Dig right down in the mud of Perdido until she couldn't be dragged out by seventeen men pulling on a rope that was tied around her neck—and I just wish it were!"

The Levee

So, on the surface this is just a great big sprawling Southern family drama. Stretching from Elinor's first appearance, in 1919, to her death in 1970, the Caskey Family Saga would be entertaining and immersive for its characters and family drama alone. There are many, many characters who come and go over the course of this intergenerational saga, as the original characters have children who grow up and have children of their own, all of whom are dragged into decades-long family squabbles and secrets, take on the psychological characteristics and burdens of their parents, while developing new ambitions and traits of their own, and making this a rich, deeply Southern soap opera full of powerful, domineering women and the men who more or less play supporting roles in their struggles.

Oscar knew that Elinor was very much like his mother: strong-willed and dominant, wielding power in a fashion he could never hope to emulate. That was the great misconception about men... there were blinds to disguise the fact of men's real powerlessness in life. Men controlled the legislatures, but when it came down to it, they didn't control themselves. Oscar knew that Mary-Love and Elinor could think and scheme rings around him. They got what they wanted. In fact, every female on the census rolls of Perdido, Alabama got what she wanted. Of course no man admitted this; in fact, didn't even know it. But Oscar did.

The House

But there is something beneath the surface of this family drama that makes it special and horrific. Michael McDowell manages to weave it into the story so organically that you can go for many chapters forgetting that this is a supernatural horror story, because the horror only emerges now and then, at dramatic moments. But always in such a way to remind you that the horror at the heart of the Caskey family has been there all along, and is never far from the surface.

It's not much of a spoiler to say that Elinor Dammert is not quite what she seems.

Deep One

We learn this early in book one. So, really y'all, I'm not spoiling things (much). But the fact that throughout the entire series, Elinor spends 99% of her time as an iron-willed Southern matriarch, waging a war of wills against her mother-in-law for the first few volumes, scheming to enrich her husband and her family and to get her way against the wishes of the domineering, spiteful Mary-Love Caskey is what makes that other 1% so much more horrific, when she periodically assumes her true form, usually to perform some act of gruesome violence.

The War

Elinor is the protagonist of the saga, but other characters move in and out of the story, sometimes taking center stage for a while and then fading, only for a previously minor character to suddenly reappear, marry into the family, and become significant. Elinor's daughters Miriam and Frances shape the next generation of Caskey family dramas. Miriam is given up to Elinor's mother-in-law Mary-Love in a kind of devil's bargain to free Elinor and her husband from Mary-Love's interference; Miriam grows up estranged from her real mother, the spoiled instrument of her grandmother's manipulations to control all her offspring, while Miriam's younger sister Frances is the sweeter, more innocent child, raised by her real mother and in awe of her haughty big sister.

Being Elinor's daughters, of course, has other implications.

The Fortune

Elinor loves her family, she does very well by them, and you really want to like her, except that the some of the acts she commits are less justifiable than others. Going into detail would be spoilery, but let's just say that while some of her victims deserve it, others very much do not... and the consequences of those acts will haunt her family (literally) for generations, until Elinor herself is reclaimed by the waters of the Perdido.

The Rain

This was an absolutely fantastic experience, the sort of long book that introduces a large cast of characters over time so you're able to remember (almost) all of them and their stories, and become interested in their lives, their children, their fortunes, and their deaths. And every once in a while there's a scene of gruesome supernatural horror to remind you that this ain't Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor.

Give this one a listen, you won't regret it.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
504 reviews24 followers
January 15, 2018
I believe this book is now my favorite book. Originally written as a series, I read the edition with all the smaller books combined into one. I'd heard it was magnificent and didn't want to have to be continuously buying each new one. Michael McDowell created an epic story of multiple generations in a small Alabama town. There is an element of underlying creatures that bump in the night but it is so small that it really just blends in to the beautiful whole. This is the only book I've read by McDowell and I plan to read the rest of what he has left for us. McDowell wrote the screenplays for Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas if that gives you any idea of his brilliance. I can't really put into words what is so amazing about this book but it was fabulous enough that I had to take extended breaks away from it because I was so distressed to see it end and to lose these characters. Such a sadness to know that McDowell (lost to AIDS-related illness in 1999) is not around writing any longer. You won't regret reading this book.

“Southerners are an easygoing race when it comes to aberrations of conduct. They will react with anger if something out of the ordinary is presented as a possible future occurrence; but if an unusual circumstance is discovered to be an established fact, they will usually accept it without rancor or judgment as part of the normal order of things.”
Profile Image for Mel.
117 reviews95 followers
May 19, 2018
I've included this article that I came across when searching for information about McDowell, an author that I felt I stumbled upon and have since wondered why I hadn't found him earlier in my life -- why I hadn't heard his name in some reading group, or one of my literature classes.
my link text
I agree that author Michael McDowell is an underrated author, who just happens to be from Alabama. This novel, or the combined series of the Caskey Family Sagas, is in my opinion McDowell's best work, a multigenerational family saga that expands far beyond the limitations of being categorized into the Horror genre. This leans more towards Magical Realism/Southern Gothic and is a fantastic story of an Alabama family, beginning just after the turn of the 20th-century. The evolution of the country and the history move behind the family's growth like an interesting backdrop. It is horror as Toni Morrison's Beloved is horror.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,639 reviews2,155 followers
August 10, 2020
I think this may be my favorite McDowell so far. It has all the Southern gothic pieces I've enjoyed from his other books, but in this long family epic, I got to really stretch out and luxuriate in it. This is my second 30+ hour listen of pandemic times and while it takes me a longer time to get through than it normally would, there's a real pleasure in staying in the same world and characters for so long.

I am usually not all that interested in family sagas, but this one I just let slowly meander and wind its way over me. Kind of like the Perdido river, I guess. This is not an action-heavy horror, though it certainly has its moments and enough monsters and ghosts to qualify as a horror without question. The beginning is probably the best, where mysterious newcomer Elinor takes on Caskey family matriarch Mary-Love. Mary-Love is one of those overbearing Southern matriarchs you have seen plenty of times before, but she's painted with such detail here that she has to go down as one of the best. Their clashes are interesting and often unexpected, you certainly don't find yourself knowing what's going to happen next, McDowell always seems to surprise and then have it feel like that twist was inevitable. When the book began to lag a bit, it often picked up again, and characters you had dismissed as flat suddenly got new life.

McDowell has several queer-coded characters in the book, though none of them are ever called that. Though he goes about as close as you can without saying so. (When two women share a bed and hold hands, that's a lot more than coding.) James, though he is married to a woman, is also described often as effeminate and more interested in having a family than having a wife. These characters get to be Southern "eccentrics," just as many queer Southerners before them hiding in plain sight.

Because I've read McDowell before I was also ready for him to be Not Great on Race and that was for the best. At first, I was pleased that a novel about wealthy white Southerners actually understood that Black Southerners also exist and are part of the community beyond just cooks and housekeepers. But over time, it became clear that while the Black community in Perdido is a part of the book, it is a nameless, faceless monolith except for the handful of Black servants in the Caskey homes. To be fair, basically everyone who is not a Caskey is also ignored except as a collective, but while the Caskeys treat their servants with kindness, and are generally accepting of civil rights, a book doesn't have to be maliciously racist to still be casually racist. The Black characters are tropes and nothing more, devoted servants, sometimes magical negroes, who want nothing more than to take care of the Caskeys.

The thing that irked me more, though, is that it is HARD for me to read books about rich people. There is a portion of the book where every member of the family has so much wealth they could never spend it all, and while the town as a whole has prospered to some extent, they just continue to sit there, no idea of what to do with the wealth except get more of it, and that makes me just about lose my damn mind. Like yeah fine it's nice to leave a sizable bequest to your servants in your will but you could also, I don't know, pay them more while you're alive!!

Still, my enjoyment of this was significant. I loved how long it was and how much the family changed over the 50 years and how it never quite fell into a rut. I did the audiobook, and at first I was frustrated that the reader didn't have a Southern accent unless he did dialogue. Seriously, in a Southern book, it is okay for the whole book to be read with an accent, I do not understand why this doesn't happen more often. But I ended up forgiving him, because he really was a good reader. He didn't do that thing where he makes all the women's voices high pitched and shrill. I really settled into the rhythms of his reading after a while.
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