Rainwater, by Sandra Brown

I was a little wary of picking up a book at the airport, after my last less-than-satisfying impulse buy. Especially when the back cover copy of Rainwater cited that this was a story about a woman and “her special child.” A little corny, right? I actually winced. But Sandra Brown is one of those authors whom I generally enjoy and feel comfortable taking the insta-buy risk with. Many of her books are formulaic thrillers, but every once in a while you find the ones that have a bit of her soul in them. A complete departure from her usual romantic suspense, Rainwater is definitely of that ilk, and even has a letter from Brown at the beginning, talking about how she wrote it in secret, between books she was contracted for.

I settled in for my hour-and-a-half long flight and inhaled this book. By the time we were touching down, I was finished. And impressed.

Rainwater takes place in Texas, during the Great Depression. It’s a literary setting I really love, thanks to HBO’s Carnivale and Sara Gruen’s Like Water For Elephants, and Brown really captures the Dust Bowl era. Her prose is stark when it needs to be and flowery when it needs to be, creating vivid pictures of the life boardinghouse owner Ella Barron leads. That Ella’s name is “barren” and the quiet lodger she takes on is named David Rainwater, is no coincidence, because the entire story is a tale of how David ends a drought and makes things grow: whether that’s within Ella, or within Gilead, the town in which they live…or within Ella’s autistic son, Solly.

Brown tackles difficult issues, like autism, racism, and poverty, with a definite sense of the period, though a little bit of 21st Century sensibility creeps in –particularly with how forward-thinking Ella and David are about medical issues and racial politics — and the book gets a little preachy as a result, but, overall, her voice remains consistent. And she’s just so good at telling this story that I was blinking away tears by the end. Rainwater is a heartbreakingly bittersweet novel; it definitely quenched my thirst for a good read.

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