Rainwater (2009) by Sandra Brown is a historical fiction novel, set in a tiny town in Texas during the Depression. I realize what today is but this book will have to suffice. It’s the only book I’ve managed to finish in the last two weeks. Moving on.
Brown states that “Rainwater” is different from anything she’s ever written before. Well, the story is a bit grim. Some may even say, depressing. I didn’t feel that the story had a depressing feel to it even though the subject matter and the ending were, well, depressing.
A pocket-watch with sentimental value jump starts this story about a single mother running a boarding house during the Great Depression in Gilead, Texas. The story is retold through the memories of a retired textiles worker now antiques dealer. The protagonist, Ella Barron takes in a new boarder, David Rainwater, a cotton broker. Dr. Kincaid, Mr. Rainwater’s physician, tells Ella some disturbing news about her new boarder which pretty much sets the mood for the story.
Ella’s young son, Solly, is autistic. Ella notices Mr. Rainwater taking an interest in her son and this causes them to bump heads about this and other things. The problem is that Ella feels pushed out of her comfort zone. The minute Mr. Rainwater steps into Ella’s home and her life, he disrupts her routine and his chivalrous behavior annoys her.
Ella spends most of her time cooking and cleaning up after her boarders. It’s a daily routine she’s used to and depends on and she doesn’t want to change it. But change it she does with a little push here and a nudge there. Ultimately, Mr. Rainwater’s presence in her life is Ella’s undoing.
Outside of Ella’s boarding house, this small Texas town is struggling with a drought and an economic crisis. Diary farmers and ranchers are deep in debt and their herds are starving. Farmland is wasted along with their cattle. The government’s response to save ranchers from complete ruination is to buy their cattle for less than the market value. Not ideal but it’s better than nothing.
While the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation does help save farmland, it also has a dark side to it. Government agents are sent to to cull the herd of cows they want to be slaughtered and processed while those that they didn’t want are killed and buried in a pit at point of sale. It was against the law for hungry citizens to take the spoils home to their families and the slaughtering of herds was emotionally traumatizing for the cattleman and their families.
To make sure people didn’t walk off with the spoils was Conrad Ellis, a local and well known bully around town. Conrad’s father owns a meatpacking plant and he buys mostly from ranchers. Free meat would be bad for business. Mr. Rainwater gets involved when Ella’s friends become the target of Conrad Ellis and his gang. Tension slowly builds in the town as the violence begins to escalate, leading to the dramatic and predictable conclusion.
I liked this story but it wasn’t compelling or captivating read for me. In fact, I found nothing remarkable about it. When I heard that the ending was less than happy, I braced myself for the worst. While the ending is not ideal, it wasn’t all that bad either. The message of the story about sacrifice is one that I’ve read before and the ending, while sad, it was predictable.
Ella was your typical single mother, abandoned by her husband thus an outcast of sorts in the small town she grew up in. She runs a boarding house, gives to the poor and likes her privacy. She worries over impropriety, over her son’s inability to communicate and the racial tension that threatens to explode in her town. She frets over the time she has with Mr. Rainwater, a man she’s come to love.
David Rainwater has a calm temperament about him yet he is intense. He is quick to play the hero by championing causes that would make him the target of bigots. The author doesn’t shy away from racial prejudice and ignorance of the time period. The violence in here is mild.
The villain in here was one-dimensional and the ending was, like I said, disappointing and unsurprising. The book has a nice sense of time and place and the romance that developed was nice but the bedroom door was firmly closed. I liked the characters but there was nothing memorable about them.
What’s more significant is that the story is told through Ella’s eyes even though the story is told through third person POV. The most interesting character in the story, David Rainwater, thoughts were unknown to us. Overall, “Rainwater” was short and quick read for me. A good book with flaws. B.
Edited for clarification.