G.D. Brown’s Sinners Plunged Beneath that Flood is set in the dreary backdrop of a small Oklahoma town of Mayes County in the autumn of 1998—given life by the tantalizing group of characters who are thrust into solving this small town’s disappearances and other strange happenings.
In the opening lines of Sinners Plunged Beneath that Flood, Brown plants seeds into the reader’s mind by placing them in media res, teasing them with a glimpse into the characters, setting, and plot: “The fall of Jenn's senior year of high school, she learned that a person could be missing without having been gone for 48 hours, among other things. The leaves were brown and crunchy then, shriveled letters from the summer sun to warn of the coming cold” (1). In just the first few opening lines, Brown has the reader asking innumerable questions - those that can only be answered by delving deeper into the wayward world he builds throughout the novel.
One of the most captivating aspects of this novel is how Brown succeeds in developing the characters for such a tantalizing and high-anxiety story. A standout of the bunch is Jenn, who finds herself thrust into solving the disappearances happening in the town. Jenn is such a tangible and relatable character because she is driven by the disappearance of her best friend Ava, and this is highlighted continuously throughout the novel with amazing moments of characterization: “She hadn’t yet crossed the street in front of the convenience store, though, before her tears burned through the anger and returned to their previous, sad state. She ran through her memory to find Ava’s face, but that space was blank. It had become a series of disjointed pieces from different jigsaw puzzles instead of the familiar picture of her friend.” (149). The myriad moments of great detail and emotion put forth by Brown make it so much easier to empathize with Jenn and the other protagonists – especially in the darker moments of the novel where hope seems like such a faraway concept.
As the reader finds themself dumbfounded by the disappearance of Jenn’s best friend, Ava, by the end of the first chapter, more surprises and layers of the mystery unfold through Brown’s effective world-building. Brown is careful with the language he uses in describing the setting and people of Mayes County, making the town itself feel like its own character, whose mere presence is a dark, foreboding cloud over its denizen: “The town fell under the shadow of empty promises and smiles about new ranches and dollar stores” (41).
Brown also challenges readers' ideas of religion and the clergy, with the First Assembly of God Church of Branch Creek also holding an oppressive presence over Jenn and the other protagonists. The church is first framed in the novel as churches normally are: a safe-haven for those affected by tragedy. With the town’s recent high numbers of disappearances, many of the townsfolk go there to seek salvation and peace of mind. However, this church and its clergy may be holding secrets far worse than can be imagined - and readers will be shocked at the revelations that are slowly and agonizingly presented to the reader.
Brown has a great technique for slow-burn, roping the reader in and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that one must follow throughout the narrative. This just makes the shocking conclusion all the more tragic. Though the text throws a lot of information at the reader in the first couple of chapters, I never found myself bored, but instead more inquisitive at each new modicum of information put forth. Characters who are revealed to readers early on who seem like nonchalant, run-of-the-mill townsfolk become titans to Jenn as she tries to unwrap the mystery of the strange happenings around her. Readers may feel that they almost can’t trust any of the characters, as you are always on the edge of your seat wondering when the next tragedy will strike and who will be responsible for it.
Sinners Plunged Beneath that Flood is not for the faint of heart, but the mere precision in story-telling and world-building make it a stellar and worthwhile read. It’s a novel great at creating questions and challenging readers' ideas of the preconceived good and bad. Much like Brown’s characters, readers will come out a different person from this novel than they were going in. As you read, you’ll ask questions you desperately need answers to; and once you're met with those answers, you’ll regret asking at all.