Review: Rainwater by Sandra Brown

Saturday, February 13, 2010


TitleRainwater
Author: Sandra Brown
Genre: Historical Fiction
First Published: November 2009
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Source: Library
Challenges100+ Reading ChallengeA to Z ChallengeSupport your Local Library Reading ChallengeWhat's in a Name? 3 ChallengeAwesome Author Challenge
256 pages

   

On the flap
The year is 1934. With the country in the stranglehold of drought and economic depression, Ella Barron runs her Texas boardinghouse with an efficiency that ensures her life will be kept in balance. Between chores of cooking and cleaning for her residents, she cares for her ten-year-old son, Solly, a sweet but challenging child whose misunderstood behavior finds Ella on the receiving end of pity, derision, and suspicion.

When David Rainwater arrives at the house looking for lodging, he comes recommended by a trusted friend as "a man of impeccable character." But Ella senses that admitting Mr. Rainwater will bring about unsettling changes.


However, times are hard, and in order to make ends meet, Ella's house must remain one hundred percent occupied. So Mr. Rainwater moves into her house...and impacts her life in ways Ella could never have foreseen. 

The changes are echoed by the turbulence beyond the house walls. Friends and neighbors who've thus far maintained a tenuous grip on their meager livelihoods now face foreclosure and financial ruin. In an effort to save their families from homelessness and hunger, farmers and cattlemen are forced to make choices that come with heartrending consequences. 


The climate of desperation creates a fertile atmosphere for racial tensions and social unrest. Conrad Ellis -- privileged and spoiled and Ella's nemesis since childhood -- steps into this arena of teeming hostility to exact his vengeance and demonstrate the extent of his blind hatred and unlimited cruelty. He and his gang of hoodlums come to embody the rule of law, and no one in Gilead, Texas, is safe. Particularly Ella and Solly.


In this hotbed of uncertainty, Ella finds Mr. Rainwater a calming presence. She is moved by the kindness he shows other boarders, Solly...and Ella herself. Slowly, she begins to rely on his soft-spokenness, his restraint, and the steely resolve of his convictions. 


And on the hottest, most violent night of the summer, those principles will be put to the ultimate test.

This was my first Sandra Brown and from what I've heard, Rainwater is quite a departure from her usual writing style. I can't really comment on that, but Sandra Brown's prose in this book is really beautiful and inviting!

My opinion
Rainwater starts at an antique shop run by an old man. Two visitors are quite entranced by the eclectic selection of collectors' delights that meet their eyes. At one point, they notice the pocket watch on the shop owner's wrist, and express their interest to buy it. The shop owner, however is adamant that he cannot part with it, and therein starts the tale of how he came by it.

The start was well set-up. The suspense, the motivation, the time reference - all laid the necessary build-up to the main story to follow. The old man recounts a story set in 1934, when the economy was reviving itself from the Great Depression. The Federal Government came up with a Drought Relief Service, by which they bought cattle from farmers who found it exorbitantly expensive to keep the cattle, and those animals unfit for consumption were killed.

Ella ran a boarding-house, where she also stayed with her autistic son, Solly. In addition, she had a helping woman, Margaret, who was black. The story is paced slow, but not too slow to interfere with reading. Ella's relationship with Margaret, her boarders, and her son were well captured. Solly's autism has always been a cause of concern for Ella, but autism didn't have a name then, nor was there much research on the topic.

I most appreciated Solly's characterization. Sandra Brown does a really good job sketching Solly's obsessive need for order, his lack of attachment with people, his constant cringing against people touching him, his very impressive memory, and his quick learning ability. Being blessed with the knowledge of autism, it is not hard for the reader to diagnose it right in the first few pages, and feel a yearning to comfort Ella that things are not as bad as she assumes.

David Rainwater arrives in the story as a mystery. He has an illness, he helps Solly, while almost every one else scoffs him, he respects Ella as a woman and not see her as his helper in a boarding house. All of what we see of David Rainwater is through Ella's eyes, so he is as much a gray figure to me initially as he is to Ella.

Most of the book is about people and relations. There is not very much story as in any momentous event that happens. This books is about Ella as she tries to grapple with her feelings as a woman aching to be loved. This book is about Solly as he observes things once and remembers them. This book is about Rainwater as he helps Ella, Solly and even the farmers who are being terrorized by Conrad Ellis, who even has the Sheriff in  his pocket. Rainwater is different from most of the books I read, but I enjoyed it for its relationship-building, something that is not heeded much in many books.

The minor characters also are worth a mention here. There is Margaret, the black woman who helps Ella at the boarding house, there is Brother Calvin, the black preacher who is much loved and respected for his messages of peace and his dedication to his people. Then there is Jimmy, Margaret's growing son, whose desires for revenge intensify in one night. But mostly, I appreciated Ella's boarders Violet and Pearl Dunne, who were endearing and persistent in their old age, but bearing of perspectives tarnished by distasteful opinions of the blacks. At one moment, I would feel sympathy for the two sisters, and probably in the next line, lose it all, seeing their indifferent opinions of Margaret, just because she was colored. Amidst all this, it was most refreshing reading Ella's very human, very realistic feelings, and her exasperation at being brought to notice by the sisters to something not taken care of in the very house she was feeding them and taking care of them

The rampant usage of words like "nigger" and "negro" had me cringing many a time. Though I grew up hearing such derogatory words, I never got "used to" those words. This book is set at a time well before the African American Civil Rights Movement, and decades before the ban on the racial slur words. Although the racial troubles are essential themes of the book, they are more felt along the edges of the story, rather than as a centerpiece. Other than occasionally turning up at certain phases of the story, the racial segregation between the whites and blacks did not feature a prominent presence.

The only disappointment I had was with the ending. After such a beautiful recounting of the story, the ending was very rushed. Even till page 248, I was waiting for something to happen that will give closure to the story. When it does happen, it's all over in a few pages. That felt very anti-climactic and out of character of a book that focused intensely on relationships, love and respect. There were so many characters whose disposition and bearings I would have liked to know. Moreover, although the story started with a pocket watch, there is no mention of it in the story that the old man says.

Overall, this is a very short read, only 256 pages. I finished it in two nights. It was very refreshing and pretty well researched. If you enjoy character-oriented and relationship-focused themes, this book should be for you. On the other hand, do not expect anything huge to happen, as nothing of monstrous proportions happens till well into the last third of the book. This book is more about the little things that build up to the climax, setting the stage to certain important events, albeit at the very end.

Title Demystified
Ella's trusted friend, Dr. Kincaid, walks into her boarding house one day, with a potential boarder, David Rainwater. Thence starts an interesting friendship and love between Rainwater, the title protagonist, and Ella. Although Ella is the main protagonist of the story, it is interesting that Sandra Brown makes David the title protagonist. Interesting because those few weeks with him brings about a lot of changes in Ella's and Solly's life, and they owe a lot to him for some of the positive developments.

Cover Art Demystified
Rainwater has a very interesting cover, that reflects the time period it is set in. The brown hues, and the sepia shades give it the appearance of a book settled in the early 1900s.

What did you think?
Have you read this book? I'd like to know what you thought about it. Please leave your review link in the comments, or a brief opinion, if you hadn't reviewed it.

9 comments:

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...

This sounds like a book I should read. Having read other Sandra Brown titles, this one sounds really different for her. Worth exploring.

mike draper said...

What a thoughtful and concise review. It gives clear insight into the novel and told enough to make me want to put this on my future reading shelf.
Mike

Diane said...

I really loved this story as it is such a change from the Sandra Brown of earlier days (for the better...IMO). I agree that the ending seemed a bit rushed, but I still liked it a lot! Great review.

bermudaonion said...

I read a couple Sandra Brown books years ago and enjoyed them, but have never read any more and I'm not sure why. This one sounds really good!

Cat said...

This does sound different from the books I've read of Sandra Brown. I must look for it .

Great review!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great review.

Aths said...

Laurel-Rain Snow, I definitely feel this book is worth a read! It is well-written.

Mike, Glad that you found my review helpful. I hope you get to read it too!

Diane, I'm with you. The ending was rushed, but that didn't take away the nice qualities of this novel.

Kathy, I haven't read any Sandra Brown books before this one, so I'm hoping I will pick more of hers.

Cat, I'm very curious now how Sandra Brown's usual books are. I have another of hers sitting on my shelf, but I may not get to it too soon.

Juju, thanks!

Alyce said...

I haven't read any of this author's books, but this one sounds like something I would really like. I like stories about people and relations, and I think the inclusion of the storyline with the autistic boy would appeal to me.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and really wasn't exposed to the kind of prejudice found in the south until I was an adult and traveled to the East coast. Reading about it (especially pre-civil rights era) seems almost like reading about another country to me.

Aths said...

Alyce, I agree those are the very things I liked about this book. The relations between people, and a character with autism. It must be weird when you get the first exposure to prejudice. It would feel like another country to me, too!