Forty Days and Forty Nights

Forty Days and Forty Nights is a 2021 novel of the Mississippi River co-written by two veteran storytellers, Amber Edwards and Justin Scott, and published by the University of Louisiana Press. Edwards is best known for the thirteen regional Emmys she won for the State of the Arts series on New Jersey PBS. She has strong Arkansas roots; her mother was born in Mississippi but raised in the Arkansas Delta. In Forty Days and Forty Nights, central character Clementine Price commandeers a volunteer army that fights off a wealthy white supremacist bent on creating a separate white nation called Alluvia in the Mississippi River Delta. Price’s indigenous knowledge of the river helps foil the terrorist attack, preventing America’s second Civil War.

Clementine Price is raised on a farm in Arkansas, near Tomato (Mississippi County). Her family had worked the rich alluvial soil for four generations. After tending to daily chores, Clementine spends hours each day outside, bonding with the Delta land she grows to love. She is wary of the river, though, full of questions about why it behaved so oddly; such curiosity lands her at West Point to study hydraulic engineering and river science.

The farm flooded every year, but the Great Flood of 2008 swallowed up the place for the final time. Clementine’s heroism in evacuating her family, along with her years of accumulated practical wisdom about the river, is not lost on Colonel Robert Garcia, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District. Garcia hires Price, by now an army veteran, as his adjutant. A decade later, Clementine Price replaces Garcia as he moves up to take control of the corps’ New Orleans District.

Nathan Flowers is the villain in the story, his life intersecting with Clementine Price’s at critical junctures. As Price flees the 2008 flood, Flowers is about ten miles away, an Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) inmate temporarily on loan to reinforce a levee. Back behind bars after the flood, Flowers uses his incarceration time cleverly, learning all the skills he needs to become a mega pastor at Hilltop, his community church constructed on the land where the Price farm once stood. Hunkered down at the prison library, Flowers earns his degree, becoming an ordained minister. However, he learns an academic view of God and a brutally racist version of religion through the prison gang he joins called Pure Dominion. According to the gang’s bloodline ideology, whites are God’s people, the chosen ones destined to rule the earth. The hatred in Flowers’s mind allows him to use an epic forty-day flood as a pretext to establish his all-white Republic in the Mississippi River Valley from Minnesota to Louisiana.

When Flowers unveils his plot for the ethnostate, Price counters with a small citizen army to resist. The final scene is a death match between the novel’s principal characters. The battle is about race, religion, and the future of America, but it is also a deeply personal battle over whose family will claim the place in the Delta once known as Tomato.

Readers were drawn into the story by the relatable, down-to-earth characters. The centrality of the Mississippi in the narrative led some reviewers to declare the river itself as the book’s leading actor. Critics also noted the deep knowledge of seamanship displayed by the writers. The maritime journal Professional Mariner was so impressed by the novel that it posted excerpts rather than a traditional book review.

For additional information:
Edwards, Amber, and Justin Scott. Forty Days and Forty Nights. Lafayette: University of Louisiana Press, 2021.

“Forty Days and Forty Nights: A Novel of the Mississippi River.” Publishers Weekly, July 26, 2021. (accessed April 29, 2023).

Stan Weeber
McNeese State University


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