Red Rain, by Bruce Murkoff (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010)
"Born near Rondout, New York, to a family steeped in wars both before and after independence, Will Harp returns home in 1864 for the first time in a decade, disconsolate over the campaigns being waged against Indians in the West even as the nation is busy tearing itself apart. His father is now buried in the Harp graveyard, surrounded by two preceding generations, and much else, too, has changed.
"For Mickey Blessing, though, these are heady times. Serving the darker needs of a prosperous businessman, Harry Grieves, he commands fear and respect as few Irish immigrants have managed to do in a society still hostile to his presence. The man he'd replaced had enlisted and is now missing in the horrors of Cold Harbor, leaving Mickey's sister, Jane, fearing the worst about her fiancee's survival.
"Coley Hinds, orphaned as a child, is fending for himself and fast growing savvy as the town around him bustles with trade and tragedy. In his stable-basement lodgings, he reads Western serials that he hopes will describe his future, but then falls under the sway of Mickey, who recognizes in him the powerless waif he once had been himself.
"All of these lives and more are intertwined when the bones of a mastodon surface on a neighboring farm that Will quickly purchases, pursuing a fervent boyhood interest. He finds an eager assistant in Coley, who suddenly needs refuge from budding criminality when Mickey suffers a hideous loss and develops an unhealthy obsession with a baby found on Jug Hill, where free black people have lived for generations. And before long, every fate is uncertain as calamity threatens to envelop them all.
"Red Rain is masterful in both its specifics -- Coley's pet squirrel, the erotic tableaux Will's photographer friend contrives, the bakery where Jane finds comfort as well as income -- and its broad historical sweep, which reaches from the settling of the Hudson River Valley to the bloodshed how ravaging the South and the West. Its characterizations are impeccable, whether of Grieves's dream of a grand hotel or Mickey's love of water, with not one gripping love story but several. And its plotting its relentless, weaving stories from various times and places that inevitably converge, right here in Rondout, with heartstopping intensity."
"Will Harp stood at the bow of the Ella May and drank deeply from the medicine bottle he held in his hand, tilting his head back to enjoy the sudden warmth blossoming behind his eyes, swallowing greedily as a fledgling, not at all interested in the artificial health benefits of the syrup."
I'm sure this was a perfectly serviceable book, but it just wasn't the one I wanted to read right now. After leaving it barely begun for days on end while I reread everything mindless I owned, I finally faced up to it and brought it back to the library -- leaving us both much happier.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.