There are things we can weather only because we believe they will end. The residents of the unnamed town in Lindsay Starck's impressive debut novel, "Noah's Wife," have begun to doubt that the rain will ever end. After years of nonstop rain, the town is a pale imitation of the vibrant community it once was. The population has declined as residents have jumped ship for sunnier climes. The zoo that put the town on the map no longer attracts visitors. The townspeople who stay take pride in their endurance, but at times the "rain on their plastic ponchos echoes in their ears with the resounding toll of a funeral bell."
This is the dismal scene that greets Noah and his wife. Loosely based on his biblical namesake, Noah is a young minister intent on saving souls in the face of a pending flood. His task is as daunting as building an ark. The townspeople have lost all faith, and the previous minister recently walked into the local river and drowned.
Noah's wife — who, like the town, remains unnamed — is certain that her husband can revive the people's dampened spirits. Her belief in her husband at first defines her. "Where else would she be, if not here?" she wonders when Noah thanks her for joining him in his mission. "What would she be doing, if she were not helping him?")
Although Noah's wife eventually comes into her own as a protagonist, her story is but one of many in the novel. Starck devotes entire chapters to several supporting characters, including eccentric townspeople and inhabitants of the city Noah and his wife have left behind. Starck's talent is on display in her vivid portrayals of these characters. We learn about their fears and foibles and greatest desires. We see where their allegiances lie and how they respond when their fidelity is tested.
Collectively, Starck's characters work toward a philosophy for weathering storms. The conclusions they draw won't dispel any clouds. Noah's wife meets a man at a cemetery who seems to express the novel's point of view: "Sometimes there isn't any way to make the best of things." If we don't drown in our grief, it's simply because we owe something to the people around us. At a time when we're all a bit rain-weary, you might find yourself admiring Starck's restraint even as you long for a rainbow at the end of the story.
Kim Kankiewicz writes from the Seattle area, where it rained every day while she reviewed this novel. She tweets as @kimprobable.