The Staggerford Flood is another of author Jon Hasslerís intimate novels about small-town life in Staggerford, Minnesota, where everyoneís business is discussed -- not with malice, but with the normal curiosity of folks who have known each other all their lives. At a time when neighbors are barely acquainted, Hassler offers a welcome distraction, a visit to a place where America is defined by small towns with friendly people, where the postman greets everyone on his route. Staggerford has the aura of turn-of the-century America, before extended families began an exodus to crowded cities where electronic media courts captive audiences.
Hasslerís most endearing character is Agatha McGhee, a former schoolteacher and octogenarian looked upon as the resident wise woman. Most of the characters in this novel are familiar faces returning from previous tales, updating their stories as they come into Agathaís orbit. Agatha has been slightly under the weather and hasnít gotten out much the last few months, but when she sees her name in the headlines of the local newspaper, she is incensed that anyone would announce her business without consulting her. This article gets Agathaís dander up and she is immediately on the move, fueled by her need to set the record straight. While in town, Agatha learns that the recent volume of rain indicates a severe flooding, and that the Badbattle River is expected to inundate all of Staggerford and the neighboring towns.
Agatha is immediately concerned with those neighbors who may not have shelter when their homes are threatened or they are unable to reach the safety of higher ground. In preparation for the tragedy, Agatha gathers blankets and canned goods, knowing she can accommodate at least two guests. Much to her surprise, the number of those stranded drastically increases and Agatha is hard-pressed to accommodate everyone comfortably.
What an odd assortment of eccentrics Agatha has gathered under her roof. Her usually quiet residence is filled with female chatter and laughter as the women nestle contentedly out of harmís way, pleased to be warm and dry. Even when the electricity is knocked out, the little group snuggles together in candlelight, festive and secure. Among the guests are Agathaís best friend of many years, Lillian, and her obdurate daughter (and the town's new undertaker), Linda Schwartzman; Janet Meers with her daughter Sara; and the oft-married Beverly Bingham Cooper. Sprinkled in are an assortment of town regulars who check on the women -- the sheriff, a local radio talk show host (read: gossip) and Agathaís nephew, Frederick, and the octogenarianís house is a temporary home to some wonderfully eccentric characters.
There is much reminiscing and storytelling as the women wait out natureís fury. Meanwhile, Agatha oversees her disparate quests, content to have brought these women together to leave their troubles far away for this short time. Occasionally the old woman dozes, dreaming of the friends who have peopled her long and well-lived life. This novel perfectly showcases Hasslerís talent in reminding us of days gone by with memories of simpler times. With Garrison Keillor and his Lake Wobegon, Hassler is the undisputed muse of Minnesota. Quirky and wry, Hasslerís characters are seductive and charming, offering the reader a respite from the stresses of everyday life: a visit back in time, when conversations were held on porch swings and grandparents lived only a block away.