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Book Review: 'I Will Send Rain' Is Beautifully Rendered

One of Dorothea Lange’s 1930s iconic portraits of a mother living through the dust bowl features a woman and her suckling child staring directly into the camera from their dusty roadside camp along a gritty, endless highway. The intrusive gaze of the mother and child is disturbing, challenging, hard. They have suffered in an environment that is cruel and unusual. 

The portrait inspired Rea Meadows to write the novel, I Will Send Rain.

Meadows wants to understand what it felt like when walls of dust whorled into every place imaginable, down to one’s very pores. At what point is hope lost? When does damnation replace redemption, or vice versa? How much loneliness can one contend with? What happens to love when previous hope for an imagined future becomes a failed dream?

Through a penetrating lens on the physical and emotional landscape of the Bell family in Mulehead, Oklahoma, Meadows’ spare and luminous prose transports us into the individual lives of the family of four:  Annie Bell worries over her children even as she is desperate for her own escape. Annie’s husband Samuel is plagued by visions and dreams and obsessively begins building an ark with his son Fred, who suffers from dust pneumonia. Their daughter, Birdie, falls deep into a first love, which gives her a false hope for a life unlike the one she is living.

Meadows can deftly twist a hopeful moment of salvation into one of devastation without sentimentality. She makes us feel the despair, the dust, and the struggle of a family and world in crisis. If you think you’ve read enough about the dust bowl, think again. You don’t want to miss this bittersweet and beautifully rendered novel.