THE VALUE OF RAIN
GENRE: Literary fiction, contemporary
Charles is 14, and after being discovered with his first love he is forced into a mental hospital to cure his sexuality. For the next ten years he endures mental and physical torture as part of that treatment and when he is finally free, he begins a relentless quest for vengeance against the woman who abetted his commitment, his mother Charlotte.
The Value of Rain chronicles Charles’ journey from hate to the unexpected beginning of redemption, and reveals the destructive nature of families, secrets and revenge.
The Value of Rain is one of those novels that will speak to you on many levels. It chronicles the madness and dysfunction of families bent on placing blame, on redirecting self-loathing onto the innocent, and touching the raw nerves of emotional attachments that often have nothing to do with love and everything to do with proximity and the accidents of birth.
Told through the eyes of a fourteen year old boy caught with his best friend, Charles is sent off to a mental institution to be cured of his homosexuality. Ten years of unimaginable cruelty, of torture both mental and physical, should have broken the boy, yet somehow Charles finds strengths within himself to survive, and unexpected friends and lovers who share a journey no one should ever be forced to take.
When Charles is finally released, through the good offices of a man who recognizes the inherent worth of the young man and who believes he is within reach of redemption, the convoluted path toward vengeance and retribution begins. The damaged boy inside the broken man faces off against a dying woman, Charlotte, his mother – the woman who condemned him to hell without remorse.
Charlotte had her reasons. Charles will know them before she dies. Revenge, to be effective, is best served upon the living.
This tale of retribution and the kind of hate that informs each and every choice—that contaminates and scours the heart and soul and keeps a person from engaging, truly engaging with life—spans a twenty year period. We meet Charles at Charlotte’s deathbed. We meet, as well, many of the actors on a stage partitioned into segments, some we see, some revealed as the set design changes with time and opportunity.
The skill of the author is considerable in how the weft and weave of the story reveal themselves through the sieve of Charles’ stunted emotional growth, through his savant gift for mathematics, and his skill at taking leaps of perception and cognition, of absorbing and re-aligning his experiences into a web of self-deceit and blind adherence to the singularity of hate.
The sheer complexity of the inter-relationships among all the characters is at first daunting, confusing, and frustrating—you feel much like a stranger who wandered into a hornet’s nest of a family gathering, each person holding open and hidden grudges, each with an agenda, each with unique histories and threads tying him to the central core of this contemporary passion play of suffering amidst an inexhaustible well of resentment.
Toggling from past-to-present and back, the author guides you through this maze with such a deft hand that the unraveling becomes seamless. You absorb the inner turmoil of Charles, you ache as he dissembles and clings to the madness and kindness and the emotional frailties of all who come to matter to him. Yet for Charles, those experiences are merely tangential, imbued with a gut wrenching impermanence and enforced through a core of righteous hatred.
The denouement—settling old scores, coming to understand the intricacies of history and the inbred dysfunctions of family—offers both hope and a measure of disquietude, a sense of incompleteness and a wish for something more concrete. But nothing about this story has hard edges or rigid boundaries, and it is in poking at those limits that compassion can emerge, albeit one filtered through a lifetime of ruination and despair. It is less about coming to understand and more about learning to let go just enough that the door opens a crack to other possibilities … and responsibilities.
The prose is fluidly elegant, a symphony of phrasing that will stop you dead in your tracks with its sheer audacity and style. Mr. Shire brings to the literary landscape a unique and compelling voice and a storytelling style that grabs you by those inelegant short hairs and refuses to let go. It is sensual and distancing, allowing emotional respite without permitting release. It is literary, intelligent, and quite simply the best book I have read in years.
The Value of Rain will ask questions for which there are no clear nor simple answers. It will enrage you and command your complete attention. It will take you on a journey for which there are no guideposts and no waystations and only the vaguest of destinations. This is Tennessee Williams territory, make no mistake about it. The Value of Rain will stay with you long after you finish the last sentence.
This is a highly recommended read, one you will want in print for your permanent collection, and a stunning debut novel for an author who has rocketed to my auto-buy list.
Bravo, Mr. Shire, bravo.