Thursday, October 27, 2016

I Will Send Rain

Title:  I Will Send Rain
Author:  Rae Meadows
Publication Information:  Henry Holt & Co. 2016. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1627794263 / 978-1627794268

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Annie Bell awoke in the blue darkness before dawn, her night dress in a damp tangle at her knees."

Favorite Quote:  "There was what you saw and there was the hidden life underneath, and you don't know it when you're a child and then you do and growing up doesn't seem so great anymore."

The time is the 1930s. The place is Mulehead, Oklahoma in the Great Plains of the USA. The country is already devastated by the Great Depression. What was once thriving homesteading land is now further hit by storms, but like no storms people have ever seen before. In the middle of a severe drought, the storms bring dust, carried by the raging wind and covering everything. Farming methods in the past that have done nothing to protect against erosion make the impact of the storms worse.

This book tells the story one family and one small town during the first summer of the dust storms. The Bell family is barely surviving. Samuel, Annie, Birdie, and Fred Bell are all coping. Samuel has visions of rain and feels that he is divinely guided to follow a path that others call delusional. Annie is trying to hold her family together, but new relationships pull at her and offer her another path. Birdie is a teenager and in love; she believes that love will conquer all and last forever. Fred is young and weak, suffering from asthma exacerbated by the dust. This is their story.

Much as this book is set in the Dust Bowl era, it is not really a period piece. The desolation and destruction of the storms merely provides a context for the desolation that seems to surround this family. This story focuses in narrowly on these four individuals and their individual struggles rather than a depiction of the era. This family's struggles exist independently of the time and place in which they find themselves. Samuel faces a crisis of faith. Annie faces a crisis of fidelity. Birdie's is a crisis of youth and trust. Fred is the one with a life-threatening physical crisis. The dust storms just make everything worse. All in all, the book conjures up a depressing set of circumstances that the reader is pulled into.

By the end, each crisis reaches a climax of sorts. Some decisions are made, and some decisions are thrust upon people. The conclusions to the individual trajectories are not really a surprise, sad and depressing but not surprising. What's odd though is that looking back on the book, I see four individual stories with four individual endings rather than the cohesive story of a family. It's as if this character driven book traces their individual paths rather than bringing it all together.

Rae Meadow's writing does depict a gritty picture of the individuals and the scene. I picture the dust permeating every surface. I picture all different shades of browns and grey with very little other color.  I feel the sadness and desperation that weighs down each of these individuals. Oddly, though, I do not feel an emotional connection to any of the characters, especially not Annie and Birdie who are the center of the story. I walk away not reflecting on the plight of the actual characters in the book but rather thinking I should read about how hard this time must have been for the people who actually lived it.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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