David Rain’s debut novel, The Heat of the Sun, is an unusual and ambitious one: an updating of one of the most famous fictional romances of the twentieth century, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. As the opera begins, in 1904, an American Naval officer is marrying a young woman in Nagasaki, Japan. The officer returns to the United States soon after the wedding without knowing that his Japanese bride carries his child. The young woman bears a son but, for complicated reasons, ends up taking her own life.
Rain picks up the story in America a few years later – where the child, completely unaware of his personal history, is being raised by his father and upper class stepmother. Coincidentally (and the author is not at all bashful about asking his readers to suspend their sense of disbelief for the duration of this novel), Ben “Trouble” Pinkerton will soon meet another boy whose father played a role in Madame Butterfly’s sad fate.
Woodley Sharpless and Ben Pinkerton meet in the boarding school to which their parents have relegated them and form an attachment that, despite long periods during which they lose contact, will be the longest and most enduring friendship of their lives. Together, more times than not, the pair will play roles in some of the key events of the twentieth century – everything from experiencing the Roaring Twenties in New York City to involvement in the Los Alamos Project that would ultimately almost destroy Trouble Pinkerton’s city of birth.
The Heat of the Sun is a wild ride, but readers willing to suspend judgment pertaining to the plausibility of the plot’s several chance-meetings between its main characters are going to enjoy that ride immensely. The author presents his story within an operatic framework: with sections marked, Overture, Act One, Act Two, Between the Acts, Act Three, Act Four, and Curtain. Each of these sections marks the passage of a number of years and a major of changing of circumstances for our narrator and other of the book’s main characters.
David Rain is an Australian author whose mother was English. He now lives in London where he teaches writing at Middlesex University. He numbers Dickens and F. Scott Fitzgerald among his favorite authors, and there are shades of both in his debut novel. The novel also reminds me a bit of John Irving’s work and, bottom line, The Heat of the Sun is one of the more imaginative debut novels I have encountered in a while.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
This is the British cover of The Heat of the Sun. I think it gives the book a totally different "feel" going in and think the American cover is more representative of what's inside the book. Which do you prefer?