Rainwater by Sandra Brown
Sandra Brown already has quite a pedigree – she’s written nearly two dozen thrillers, several of which have been New York Times bestsellers, so there’s no question that she knows who to spin a great yarn.
However – Rainwater is something different – this is a case of something that often happens with writers who are very well-established and successful in one specific genre – burning away in the back of their brain is an idea for something else entirely, and something that may not appeal to their existing fan base.
Sandra Brown says in the preface to Rainwater that she wrote this on the sly – she was writing two other contracted books at the time, and none of her business associates knew that she was working on this little project, so she submitted the finished manuscript with trepidation because it was such a contrast to her previous work and she didn’t know how it would be received.
I think she needn’t have been fearful – Rainwater is a very special story, beautifully constructed and told, and above all very readable – I read it in two evenings, and I don’t think you could stretch it out longer than that because the characterization and plot are so strong that you just want to find out what’s going to become of these people that you quickly become attached to.
Ella Barron is a lonely single mother running a boarding house in Texas during the Depression, and her lodgers are two elderly spinster sisters and a travelling salesman – she has a young son, Solly, who is autistic, but because autism hadn’t been identified by then he is generally viewed as the town idiot – people don’t know about the nuances of the condition.
She is living a very orderly, proscribed, regimented life until one day the local doctor introduces a young man, Mr Rainwater, who is looking to board in one of her rooms – she knows something is up, and learns that Mr Rainwater has terminal cancer and only a few months to live.
It’s the perfect set-up for a poignant love story, and Sandra Brown doesn’t disappoint – she draws out the tension beautifully and steers clear of the melodrama and sentimentality that can make this kind of story really soupy and drippy and annoying – I’m sure you know what I mean.
One of my favourite elements was Sandra Brown’s exploration of the history of this area, particularly in relation to a government-run cattle programme that came out of the Depression – there were thousands of farmers whose farms were no longer economically viable, so the government slaughtered their stock and paid them per head of cattle – and this becomes an intrinsic part of the plot related to a local small-town villain who has unfinished business with Ellie.
Rainwater is quite a literary novel in terms of its austerity and its refusal to give the reader the ending they might prefer, but despite the many sadnesses in the story, I found it hopeful, uplifting and really rather special and different – I recommend it very highly.
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewed by Stephanie Jones
Published by Simon & Schuster