In the opening paragraph of her new novel, “I Will Send Rain,” Rae Meadows notes: “There had been no rain for 72 days and counting. The mercury would climb past a hundred today and no doubt again tomorrow.” Set in Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl in 1932, the book is the affecting story of the Bell family endeavoring to maintain their farm during endless drought. The privations the four endure are monumental.
While impressively depicting the parched, unforgiving landscape where dust storms destroy their animals and crops, Meadows focuses on God-fearing Samuel Bell, his 37-year-old wife, Annie, his headstrong 15-year-old daughter, Birdie, and his 8-year-old son, Fred. Annie retains a pretty face and youthful spark.“More and more, she feared the drought would free a tight coil of restlessness in her, expose her as someone less than steadfast.”
Birdie, who is in a sexual relationship with a young farmer, “was so sick of hardship. She just wanted life to return to regular. The last storm had taken two more hens and her mother’s pole beans.” Fred has never spoken, using a chalkboard to communicate. His asthma is worrisome.
Samuel is the most overwhelmed member of the family. Frightening dreams about floods occur nightly. He believes God is instructing him to build a boat, a version of Noah’s Ark, to shelter his family.
If you are looking for an uplifting, cheery read, this is not your book. “I Will Send Rain,” however, is a powerful rendering of human resilience.
Katherine Bailey is a book critic in Bloomington.
I Will Send Rain
By: Rae Meadows.
Publisher: Henry Holt, 253 pages, $26.
Events: With Peter Geye, 7 p.m. Sept. 9, Magers &; Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.; Literature Lovers Night Out, with Louise Miller, Sonya Chung and Stephanie Wilbur Ash, 7 p.m. Oct. 20, Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior. Tickets are $10 and go on sale Sept. 16 at the store.