Sunday, July 31, 2016

Dreams and Dust: I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows

I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows is a beautifully written portrait of a family and a community struggling to survive during the early Dust Bowl days in Oklahoma. The characters are memorable and complicated, their story heart breaking and vivid.

Annie left her parent's parsonage home to follow Samuel's dream. Starting life out in a sod hut, they built a farm and a family, a life that brought them joy until the death of their child brought a distance between them. Now in 1934 everything they had built together is being torn apart by dust storms and crop failures.

Their eldest, Birdie, at nearly sixteen has fallen in love with a farmer's son but dreams they will leave Oklahoma for a better life. Their youngest, Fred, does not speak but has a great heart and deep understanding.

Samuel loves farming, and watching all he worked for drift away in the wind leads him to wonder what sin must be atoned for. Dreams haunt him day and night until he decided God has spoken and called him to show his faith by building a boat.

Annie lost her faith with the death of her child. She dreams about another version of herself, a woman who wasn't reduced to sharp angles by the endless hardships of the failing farm. The mayor's attentions offer an escape to seek that other woman.

Families flee silently in the night, men kill themselves in despair, and society breaks up. And this part of the story I find most intriguing.

The community comes together to hire a charlatan who promises that shooting fireworks into the sky will bring rain. The magic does not work.

The mayor's assistant comes up with a way to deal with the proliferation of rabbits that destroy the struggling gardens: the community will round them up and kill them. The killing of the scapegoat rabbits is like a primitive ritual, an appeasement to the God who has punished them with dust, locusts, and eventually even the death of the son.

At once particular point the authorial voice breaks through with an omniscient prophecy of what it will take to save the land, including tapping the Ogallala aquifer-- a limited resource. And at that moment the book is not just about the past but our future, a prophecy of life to come if we do not change our ways. When that ancient water source is gone---it is gone, and the cycle could start all over again.

I had just read The Water Knife about the Southwest water wars after climate change. This historical novel has as much to tell us about the future as any dystopian novel. Because if we don't learn from the past we will repeat it.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

I Will Send Rain
by Rae Meadows
Henry Holt
Publication date August 9, 2016
$26.00 hard cover
ISBN: 9781627794268