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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Levee by William Kent Krueger

William Kent Krueger's writing is beautiful, and J.D. Jackson reads the audiobook wonderfully, but I felt impatient with the focus on logistics and the bullheaded man who ignored the coming flood and endangered the lives of countless others.

In William Kent Krueger's audio novella The Levee, four men in a rowboat struggle to rescue a family trapped by the rising waters of the Mississippi after a storm. The river balloons to 80 feet wide, and three convicts and their leader arrive at the ancestral home to rescue the family--but not all of them want to leave.

Secrets and loyalties swirl as the levee threatens to give, flooding the land.

In the author's note, William Kent Krueger explains that The Levee was inspired by William Faulkner‘s story The Old Man and is set at the beginning of the worst flood in American history. (In 1927, the Mississippi flooded 27,000 square miles, becoming 80 miles wide south of Memphis and 30 feet deep in places.)

The Levee is largely about the buildup to the flood, and it centers specifically on the attempted rescue of a family from their home, Ballymore. The widower patriarch of the family is stubborn and refuses to leave despite the rising waters. His prideful focus on material objects and on his societal standing seems perfectly showcased by the fact that the grand house he takes such pride in is built below the levee, out of sight of the nearby river--yet it is poised for destruction by the forces he is willfully ignoring. His devoted daughter is determined to stick by him, and the family's servants stay in order to keep an eye on the daughter.

Meanwhile we learn about the motivations and secrets of those in the boat full of would-be rescuers, and we see nefarious plots unfold aimed at theft and escape.

Krueger's writing is beautifully spare, but I felt impatient with the entire enterprise. The men's efforts are aimed at rescuing a bullheaded man who comes off as maddeningly foolish, while multiple others willingly put their own lives in danger to support him. There’s a lot of page time spent on figuring out the potential logistics of shoring up the levee, which slowed the pacing further.

I didn’t feel character connections between the characters or a connection to them as a reader. I did find interesting the examination of unpredictability of both man and nature, which the author mentioned in his author's note, as well as the exploration of the immense power of weather and water.

I received an audiobook edition of this title courtesy of and Simon & Schuster Audio Originals as part of the ALC program. The story is narrated wonderfully by J.D. Jackson.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

William Kent Krueger is also the author of Ordinary Grace and This Tender Land.


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