The Staggerford Flood

( 3 )

Overview

In The Staggerford Flood, Jon Hassler brings back Agatha McGee and reunites other favorite characters from his award-winning Staggerford novels. When a flood hits Staggerford and neighboring towns, Agatha McGee's house on the highest hill in town becomes a refuge for seven female neighbors, friends, and former students for three days and three nights. This deluge of old and new friends—as well as a new young priest who thinks Agatha has become a bit too zealous about morality—helps to restore Agatha's own very ...

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The Staggerford Flood

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Overview

In The Staggerford Flood, Jon Hassler brings back Agatha McGee and reunites other favorite characters from his award-winning Staggerford novels. When a flood hits Staggerford and neighboring towns, Agatha McGee's house on the highest hill in town becomes a refuge for seven female neighbors, friends, and former students for three days and three nights. This deluge of old and new friends—as well as a new young priest who thinks Agatha has become a bit too zealous about morality—helps to restore Agatha's own very distinctive spark.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A natural disaster threatens the unique rural charm of Hassler's Minnesota village in the latest installment in his ongoing series, which maintains much of its entertainment value despite his decision to bring back a secondary character from an earlier volume as his fussy, pedantic protagonist. Agatha McGee is the 80-year-old sixth-grade teacher who is beginning to dread the onset of old age, so much so that a local radio personality suggests that she hold her own memorial party in advance to try to get a lift from the tribute. What invigorates Agatha instead is the threat of a flood, which distracts her from her preoccupation with local gossip and causes her to offer shelter to several troubled residents, including a combative mother and daughter as well as several friends and acquaintances. Her immediate neighbors quickly evacuate when the water rises to record levels, but the disaster brings out Agatha's stubbornness as she insists on staying in her hilltop house with her erratic guests, turning the disaster into a smalltown version of an adult slumber party. Hassler's compassion for his characters remains resolute as he describes their hidden passions and concerns, although a subplot in which Agatha encourages a struggling older woman to assume her dead sister's identity is muddled and ineffective. The popularity of Hassler's series is due to his skill in depicting, with warmth and insight, the quaint shades and nuances of rural life. While this book isn't quite up to the level of some of his earlier efforts, it represents a solid start in his first novel from Viking. (Sept. 16) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452284623
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,089,705
  • Product dimensions: 7.98 (w) x 10.76 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon Hassler is the author of twelve novels, two short story collections, a volume of novellas, and two works of nonfiction. He is Regent’s Professor Emeritus at St. John’s University in Minnesota.

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Read an Excerpt

Because Agatha McGee's penmanship had become shaky with age, she relied on her younger friend Janet Meers to do her handwriting for her.

"Janet, are you coming into town today?" she asked over the telephone. "I have some invitations I'd like you to copy out for me and address the envelopes."

"Sure, what time?"

"Before two. Lillian comes over at two."

"I can come at eleven or one; take your pick."

"Come at eleven; we'll have lunch."

"Good, I'll bring sandwiches and soup."

Agatha protested, but not enough, fortunately, to sway Janet.

"What kind of sandwich would you like?" asked Janet.

"Tuna fish. But not in a bagel. Bagels are so hard to chew."

"Tuna on rye and bean soup. How's that?"

"That will be fine."

"What are the invitations for? Are you throwing a party?"

"I am, as a matter of fact."

A squeal of delight-"Oh, good!" Then, "Are Randy and I invited?"

"Never mind. You'll see when you get here."

Janet drove in from her split-level house on a scenic, wooded bend of the Badbattle River east of town. It was a lovely spring day. Birds were kicking up a racket in the lime-green woods, and the roadsides were purple with violets. She entered town on the high end and coasted downhill to the Badbattle, noticing how harshly the sun lay across the sidewalks and doorways now that the elms had mostly been taken down. Everything-the lawns, the houses, the people out walking-seemed overexposed to the sky. Here and there an elm remained standing, but dying, partly dismantled by wind and woodpeckers, a stark and ugly monument to the shaded and graceful past.

She parked in front of Agatha's large white house that sat on the highest lot on River Street. She was glad to see that Agatha's nephew, Frederick Lopat, had finally finished repairing the shoulder-high retaining wall that kept her front yard from spilling into the street. She was pleased, too, having climbed the steps to the yard, to see that he had raked the grass and readied the small flower beds for the annuals he'd plant in a few weeks after the threat of frost was past. This morning he was painting the wrought-iron railing leading up to the front porch.

"Hi, Fredriko."

He turned to her with his customary nod and crooked smile, a paint brush in one hand, a small can of black Rust-Oleum in the other. He was a tall, pale, stoop-shouldered man in his fifties. His "Hi, Janet" was barely audible.

"Not working today?" she asked.

"I got plenty work around here."

"I mean in Willoughby."

"Nope, Saturday's my day off."

She held up the lunch bag she'd brought. "I've got your favorite here, ham and cheese."

"Good, thanks," he mumbled, and turned back to work.

She climbed to the wide front porch and pressed the doorbell.

"The bell's on the blink again," said Frederick. "Go ahead on in."

She did so, calling Agatha's name. There was no response. She called again, crossing the living room, and once again in the dining room. It occurred to her that Agatha may be dead. She glanced into the sunroom, then pushed open the swinging door into the kitchen with trepidation, half expecting to find Agatha, in her eightieth year, collapsed on the floor. She wasn't in the kitchen, but Janet shuddered anyhow, recalling the days before the flood when she had this expectation every time she approached this house. Before the flood Agatha didn't look well. She didn't act well. She spent whole days in her chair by the front window, brooding and watching the occasional car or pedestrian go by. The flood woke her up. The flood and her new pacemaker. The change was miraculous. She came out of the ordeal looking even smaller and more fretful than she had before, but a lot of her old energy came back, her erect posture, her strong voice, her fiery opinions.

Janet noticed the door to the enclosed back porch standing slightly ajar, and she found Agatha on the back stoop shaking out her dust mop. The woman seemed to have shrunk since she last saw her a month ago. Janet's daughter Sara, when she was in the fifth grade, was as tall as Agatha was now. She turned quickly to Janet, a sparkle of good humor in her small, lively eyes, because the sight of Janet always made her glad, and said, "Ah, there you are. Isn't it a perfect day? The sun actually is sending us down some warmth."

Bending to give the old woman a peck on the cheek, Janet agreed. "Spring is early this year. Most of our snow has already disappeared."

Agatha took her arm. "Yes, and the first thing I heard this morning was a pair of wrens. I came out here to verify it and saw one of them, so I've stopped worrying that winter might come back." She went on about birds while looking Janet over. She was pleased to see her hair cut short, no wrinkles yet except smile lines around her clear, steady eyes, and the frown mark in her forehead, the latter doubtless caused by worry concerning her husband, Randy, whom Agatha had never entirely approved of.
"I thought they were orioles at first but orioles are cautious travelers, you know. They wait until it's completely safe before they come north and set up housekeeping."

With her eyes on the house across the alley, Janet said, "Lillian's place is still empty."

"It's not fit to live in. Because of the flood, you know."

"But that was almost a year ago. You mean it hasn't been repaired yet?"

"Nothing's been done. Empty ever since Imogene moved out. It's becoming an eyesore."

Lillian Kite's unmarried daughter, Imogene, as Janet knew, managed the local Carnegie Library. After the flood she had locked up the house and moved into a condo downtown. "Wouldn't you think they'd sell it?"

"It's not theirs to sell. It was usurped by the county commissioners months ago. They intended to sell it. To pay for Lillian's room at the Sunset Senior Home. But of course nobody wants damaged goods."

They stood there silent for a time, Janet's face raised to the warm sunshine, Agatha gazing at the house across the alley, recalling how, as a child, she used to watch for Lillian Kite out her kitchen window (this was before the back porch was added on). Lillian was Agatha's first and lifelong friend. Lillian's third birthday party was Agatha's first social occasion. She remembered how her anticipation turned to anxiety when she discovered Lillian's house full of three- and four-year-olds she'd never seen before. From the corners of rooms Agatha watched them screaming, wrestling, bursting balloons, and gorging themselves on popcorn and cake. Where did all these strangers come from and why was Lillian paying more attention to them than she was to Agatha? She cried. Mrs. Kite sent word to Agatha's mother and she came and took her home.

But this party was not Agatha's earliest memory. Riding over the snow on a sled was the first event in her life she remembered. Her father had equipped the sled with a box to contain her and her blankets, and her mother was pulling her downtown through a gray afternoon to visit her father at his law office and to shop for groceries. They passed the houses of Mary Lou, Frankie, and Jenny Marie, children Agatha was not yet aware of and whose birthday parties she was destined, alas, to attend.

"Come, I'll show you the invitations before lunch," she said, rousing herself from her childhood reverie. "If we don't hurry I may change my mind. I've never been a party sort of person."

Sitting at Agatha's desk in the sunroom, Janet wrote half a dozen times,

Please grant me the pleasure of your company on April 14th 4 o'clock until 7 o'clock p.m. in order that we may commemorate our time together during the Flood of the Century.

~Agatha

She then addressed the envelopes and joined Agatha and Frederick in the kitchen for lunch.

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

In her eightieth year, Agatha McGee is feeling her age, more tired and less a part of daily life in town. When an article in the local paper tells the whole town about her failing health, Agatha decides she's spent enough time in the house. During her attempts to return to society, a flood hits the Badbattle River, engulfing every house except hers. Staggerford needs Agatha like never before, and seven neighbors, friends, and former students seek refuge with Agatha for four days and nights.

ABOUT JON HASSLER

Jon Hassler is the author of eleven novels, two short-story collections, and two works of nonfiction. He is Regent's Professor Emeritus at St. John's University, Minnesota. He and his wife, Gretchen, divide their time between Melbourne Beach, Florida, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

AN INTERVIEW WITH JON HASSLER

What made you want to return to Staggerford again?

The need to say more about the Minnesota small town and the people I've become attached to.

Do you think Agatha's story is over, or will you keep writing about her until her death?

I am currently writing about her again, a novel called The New Woman and she is eighty-seven years old. I don't plan to write another book about her—unless she won't leave me alone.

What inspired you to focus this story on the lives of these women? Why are the men so absent from the story?

The women are all friends of mine. The spotlight being on the women, the men only have supporting roles.

Has your view of these characters—and the town of Staggerford—changed over the years?

I don't think my attitude has changed, but has remained constant over the years since 1977 when Staggerford was first published.

What kind of reading do you do when you are writing? Do any books in particular that inspire you to write?

I read fiction mostly, and I am particularly inspired by the novels of William Trevor and the short stories of Alice Munro. But the best book I have read in the last two years was Atonement, by Ian McEwan.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • The newspaper article about Agatha's failing health gets her out of the house and back in the public eye. How do people react to her? How does she, in turn, react to them? What is she trying to prove?
     
  • On page 45, Fredrick notes that "certain people made Agatha's eyes light up", but that he and Lillian were not those people. How does Agatha's treatment of Frederick and Lillian—the people that care for her day after day—compare with her treatment of those she seldom sees at all? How do you account for the discrepancy? How does Agatha?
     
  • Discuss Agatha and Lillian's relationship. Do they love or hate each other? What do you think has kept them together for so many years?
     
  • Agatha often remarks that Lillian and Frederick are "slow-minded". Are they as slow as she seems to think? Discuss specific examples.
     
  • What is the source of Imogene's unhappiness? Why is she so jealous of Janet? Of Beverly? What do these women have that Imogene wants?
     
  • Lillian claims her fowl mood is because Imogene refuses to sell the house. Do you think that is true? What other factors could be contributing to her mood?
     
  • Discuss the character of Linda Schwartzman. She was born in the area, but is the only newcomer to this group of women. In what ways is she different than they are? In what ways is she the same? How important is their friendship to her?
     
  • Agatha has a close relationship with Father Healy and religion plays a large part in her life. How has Catholicism shaped her life since childhood? What role does the church play in her decisions and, later, in her guilt?
     
  • What are the reasons that Beverly feels she must return to Agatha? Does she accomplish what she hoped by returning? Why is it so hard for Beverly to simply thank Agatha?
     
  • Does Agatha sin when she turns Calista into Dort? What affect does that lie have on Calista? On Agatha? On the entire town? In the end, was the lie worth it?
     
  • How does the flood affect each of the women in Agatha's house? How does that time change each of them?
     
  • Why does Agatha feel it is so important to bring together all her lodgers from the flood a year later? Is her breakfast a success? How important is it to these women to maintain their friendship? Why?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2003

    Another Hassler gem

    Hassler and Staggerford: that tells you that you're in for a fine read. Enjoy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2002

    Hassler delivers again

    As a long time Jon Hassler fan, I was pleased to see his new novel "The Staggerford Flood" has lived up to the execptional writting style he is known for. Hassler again delivers a page turning chronicle of Minnesota's favorite former school teacher, Agatha McGee, and her friends, along with numerous other characters from previous novels. Hassler has made his alter ego, Miss McGee, the type of character whom one tends to admire and genuinly care about, and in turn, feel the same about the author. My only fear in reading this novel was it's sense of finality. If this is the last Agatha McGee installment, I sincerely hope that this will not be the last of Mr. Hassler's writting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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