Annie Bell can’t escape the dust. It’s in her hair, covering the windowsills, coating the animals in the barn, in the corners of her children’s dry, cracked lips. It’s 1934 and the Bell farm in Mulehead, Oklahoma is struggling as the earliest storms of The Dust Bowl descend. All around them the wheat harvests are drying out and people are packing up their belongings as storms lay waste to the Great Plains. As the Bells wait for the rains to come, Annie and each member of her family are pulled in different directions. Annie’s fragile young son, Fred, suffers from dust pneumonia; her headstrong daughter, Birdie, flush with first love, is choosing a dangerous path out of Mulehead; and Samuel, her husband, is plagued by disturbing dreams of rain. As Annie, desperate for an escape of her own, flirts with the affections of an unlikely admirer, she must choose who she is going to become.
This book had a weird effect on me. While I didn’t know what to make of it when I reached the last page, it’s been two days and I’m still thinking about it, so I believe that’s a good sign. Because there are others that you quickly forget (even if you had a great time reading them), but some books do stay with you for a long time.
I wrote about quiet novels a few days ago and,coincidentally, I Will Send Rain is another one of those. It tells the story about a family living in Oklahoma in the 30s, during the Dust Bowl period. I had read about this phenomenon before (don’t ask me when or why, but I randomly knew about this) and I found it super interesting to craft a story based on this particular event.
We have Annie and Samuel Bell, the parents, the oldest daughter who’s named Birdie and young Fred, who doesn’t talk. They live in a somewhat remote farm and together they try to survive the dust bowl years while struggling with farming, marriage, first love and, simply, life.
The book was just under 300 pages but it didn’t feel too short. We had plenty of time to get to know the Bells, their dreams, their hopes, their secrets. And boy, there were secrets. My favorite character was Fred, but I really loved them all, even though they weren’t perfect, not at all. They made mistakes, but they were genuinely good people (well, Fred was pretty perfect, but he was only eight years old). Even the supporting characters were interesting to read: Jack Lily. Cy…
I kept thinking this would make a great film, one of those epic southern movies the Oscars seem to love. It has everything I like about quiet stories: an unforgettable family, a great setting, rural life, a marriage in trouble, a young woman with a secret… But what I loved the most is that every character was brilliantly portrayed and felt realistic.
So yes, this is a pretty special book. Don’t expect it to be super thrilling or even fast-paced, but if you love stories about families and you’re interested in American history (especially, the beginning of the XX century), this is probably a good choice.
Henry Holt and Co, 2016