The Bookworm

“I Will Send Rain” by Rae Meadows (Henry Holt), $26, 272 pages

Rain, rain, go away.

That saying never worked, did it? You could chant those four words all you wanted, trying to keep your picnic, reunion or party from being ruined, but the sky opened up and there you were.

Rain, rain, go away — unless, as in the new novel “I Will Send Rain” by Rae Meadows — that’s the kind of storm you really need.

Another day of 100-degree weather.

That was Annie Bell’s second thought, as she eased herself out of bed, off the sweat-soaked sheet and, away from her sleeping husband, Samuel. It would be 100 degrees again today, just like it had been for weeks.

Her first thought had been of the baby she’d lost 10 years before. Annie often wondered what Eleanor would be like, and it confounded her that Samuel never thought about their second-born. Then again, a lot about Samuel confounded her.

And then there was Birdie.

Annie’s worried about her first child. At 15, Birdie seemed to be on the edge of all kinds of possibilities, and none at all.

Birdie thought she was in love with Cy Mack, and Annie knew that Birdie dreamed of living in a city, but Cy Mack was never going to take her away from the Oklahoma panhandle, that was for sure.

Escape was what Annie wanted for Birdie more than anything.

And Fred — sweet, mute, Fred, 7 years old, frail and rather sickly. Nobody knew exactly why Fred couldn’t — or wouldn’t — talk or why he never had, but Annie figured he’d say something when he was good and ready. She worried about him, too, but in the meantime, he was a good help for Samuel.

And, oh, Samuel! There were times when Annie remembered what she gave up to love him, and she wondered how they’d lost that love. Was it the hardship? The isolation? The farm, the drought, the loss of crops or children?

She wasn’t sure of that, or anything, except that they needed rain. So when the sky turned black that hot afternoon and electricity filled the air, there was hope.

But, of course, you know better. You know what happened to the Dust Bowl during the Dirty Thirties, and in “I Will Send Rain,” anticipation is half the story.

From the very first paragraph, Meadows makes it difficult not to become mired in the Bells’ lives, and impossible not to watch in steely dread as each character in this book falls apart slowly or becomes slightly insane (or both).

Our sentry-duty’s complicated by creeping dust and dirt that almost seems alive and that nearly becomes a sinister character in itself, giving the story a rubber-band tightness that runs snapping and sparking on every page.

This dark novel felt Armageddon-like to me, and I was wrung out by the end, but it’s been awhile since I’ve been as satisfied with a story as I was with this one. I highly recommend the book.

In a good way, reading “I Will Send Rain” will leave you in a puddle.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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