From what I understand (not having read her before), Rainwater is a change-of-pace novel for its author, Sandra Brown. Already well known for her bestselling novels of the romantic thriller type, this time around Brown has written a more serious novel about a woman struggling to raise her autistic son in rural Texas during the Great Depression.
Ella Barron’s life has not been an easy one. Her only child has increasingly withdrawn into his own little world, to the point that at age ten he is unable to communicate with anyone, including his mother. Her husband, apparently unable to cope with the responsibilities of a son like his, walked away one day and Ella has not seen him in several years. She supports herself and Solly by working around the clock to keep her four long-term boarders satisfied enough to stay with her. Ella and Solly have fallen into a comfortable routine by the time that new boarder David Rainwater moves into the house.
Despite her conscious effort to keep her relationship with Mr. Rainwater on a strictly professional basis, Ella finds herself strangely drawn to the man almost from the beginning. Ella Barron is a proper lady of her day and she knows the damage that gossip can do to a woman’s reputation in a town the size of the one she has lived in all her life. Consequently, she works hard to hide her feelings for Rainwater and, luckily for her, the elderly spinster sisters and the traveling salesman who also board with her remain blind to the couple’s slowly budding romance.
David Rainwater, though, is a man with a secret and he has come to live in Ella’s boarding house for reasons of his own. As Ella learns, Rainwater is a man with little to lose and that makes him willing to take chances few men would be inclined to take otherwise. He will play an important role in the conflict that will soon tear the little community apart, a fight pitting the local sheriff and the town bully against townspeople, farmers, and the starving population of a nearby shantytown.
Rainwater is the story of a man that badly wants to do some good. And he does exactly that. The countless hours Rainwater devotes to little Solly pay off when the boy demonstrates an unexpected talent that encourages his mother to turn to medical specialists for advice about his condition. When he recognizes the utter brutality and wastefulness of what the sheriff is allowing to happen to local farmers and dairy ranchers, he organizes the locals in a way he hopes will limit the damage. Perhaps just as importantly, he brings love back into the life of a woman that had given up on it ever happening to her again.
Rainwater has a lot going for it but I did find it difficult to get very emotionally involved in a story that has so many one-dimensional characters. The town bully, for instance, is the stereotypical version of a bully most readers will be familiar with, right down to the rich parents who never bothered to tell him “no.” The cowardly sheriff is not developed at all and readers will have to wonder what motivates this man to remain in the shadows while so much evil is happening in his town. And the local doctor and a charismatic black preacher, admirable as they are, do not move far beyond being clichés. All of these characters are interesting and I wanted to know more about them.
Rated at: 3.0
(Review Copy provided by Simon & Schuster)