Rae Meadows is the author of Calling Out, which received the 2006 Utah Book Award for fiction, No One Tells Everything, a Poets & Writers Notable Novel, and the widely praised novel, Mercy Train. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Brooklyn, New York.
"Rae Meadows' I Will Send Rain is as lush and powerful as the novel's Dust Bowl setting is dry and cracked--Meadows paints the Bell family's desperation with compassion and warmth, and her precise language turns grit into gold."
"I Will Send Rain is meticulously researched, deeply felt, and beautifully written, and I loved immersing myself in its harsh and elegant world."
"In I Will Send Rain you'll find compassion, heartbreak, and not a word out of place. Meadows shares with John Steinbeck not just a gigantic empathy but a gigantic storytelling gift. This is a novel where love and laughter abide."
The Dust Bowl is one of those time periods in history I've heard about often enough that I feel like I know it, only to stop for a moment and realize I don't. Upon reflection, I realize my knowledge doesn't extend beyond the bounds of The Grapes of Wrath, a few old photographs I've seen, and countless mentions of the words "Dust Bowl." And really, I don't even get much of picture of the Dust Bowl itself even from The Grapes of Wrath. That novel begins with the devastation already in place, the main thrust then being the struggle for a new place in the world upon leaving all that behind. I Will Send Rain however, Rae Meadows newest novel, provides a wonderfully detailed picture of people actually trying to live within the Dust Bowl:
Birdie loved the musty, sweet fruit and larded crust of mulberry pie. Before she turned toward the house, though, she saw what her father now saw. The clouds were not gathering overhead as they should have been, they were instead moving at them like a wall, the sun lost in a hazy scrim, the winds picking up, dry and popping with electricity, biting and raw against her skin.
"What in God's name?" Her father squinted against the darkening sky, which turned brownish and then dark gray, even green in places where the sun was trying to burn through. It was midday but it looked like dusk, the sweep of an otherworldly hand....
"Fred!" he yelled, though it was pointless given the wind. Dirt began to blow. The world had gone dark and haywire. Dear God, Samuel thought, what is this ugliness?
Annie Bell and her husband try to protect their family and provide as the dust storms ravage their farm. Her husband dreams of tremendous floods and begins to build a boat, feeling called by God. Her daughter pines both to get away and for her boyfriend from a nearby farm. Annie's son, an asthmatic, simply tries to keep breathing amidst the worsening dust. Facing heavier and heavier burdens in an already difficult life, Annie finds herself increasingly attracted to the cosmopolitan mayor despite still strongly loving her husband and family:
"Oh. Hello, Mayor," she said, registering how quickly he had managed to make it out to the sidewalk, She wished she'd had a chance to blot her face with a handkerchief....
"Nothing wrong with a parade," she said. She should have kept going then, but there she stood, a tension between them both awful and delicious. "You can call me Annie."
"Can I carry that for you? Help you to your car?"
No one who saw them would have thought anything of it, and yet Annie knew different. What could people see anyway? They couldn't see the weight of a glance or the impurity of a thought. They were in plain view, but the town might just have easily fallen away. "No, no. I'm all right," she said. But she didn't move on....
"The truth is I didn't want to go home just yet." She felt lighter having said it, a new hollow in her gut.
"Can I walk with you? I'm in no rush to get back to my desk."
She was pleased, but she knew it was not quite right for him to ask. Are you doing good by God, Annie, she heard her mother say before she could quiet the voice.
"Okay," she said.
"Okay, Annie," he said. "And you can call me Jack."
Meadows paints this picture of the tense and ravaged farming landscape in unadorned, straightforward prose. At the same time, a good amount of beauty and warmth manage to come forth. There is suffering, people bearing more than they can because there is no choice, being pulled between many different kinds of needs, but there is an overwhelming sense of home within it. Maybe some of that is my childhood in Nebraska calling to me, but that isn't it entirely. There's definitely more. Of course, that sense of home breeds a great deal of tension in the face of almost ever-present possible doom. Wonderfully tuned suspense keeps the pages continually turning.
I Will Send Rain is delightfully vivid, both in the setting and the windows into the characters. The reader can taste the dust, and the longing in the characters' mouths. I didn't feel that I was reading as much as watching, and that kind of dive into prose always speaks highly for a novel. I Will Send Rain is an impressive showing from Meadows, well worth checking out.