After the Rains
According to its press release, After the Rains is a novel of “rebellion and forgiveness.” The “rebellion” is a bit overstated, and by the time the forgiveness came about I was almost too tired of the characters to care. For this reader the book was less than successful.
Natalie Camfield has a typical high schooler’s disease – Senioritis. She’s tired of her parents telling her what to do, and she’s tired of living by her church’s rules. One night, after a fight with her parents, she drags her best friend Sara out to a party and tastes beer for the first time. On the way home one of the other students, completely wasted, plows into her car, putting Natalie into the hospital and Sara into a grave. Natalie is guilt-stricken and full of self-loathing. And when the blood tests come back from the state revealing that she was legally drunk as well, everything inside her falls apart.
The rest of the novel is about her redemption and how she finds forgiveness, both from others and from herself. Her search ultimately takes her to Colombia where her birth father, Nathan Camfield, runs a mission in a small village. There she finds her calling – and true love?
The first section of After the Rains really was pretty good. Drunk driving is, of course, a gut-wrenching crime because it is quite often unintentional. It’s a crime of carelessness, not premeditated evil. Raney does over-villainize alcohol – Natalie has two and a half beers and flogs herself for the rest of the book for her “rebellion” – but her reaction to the death of her friend is very realistically portrayed. She is devastated. And so is everyone else.
Much of the book is written in an easy-to-read style, though Raney has a tendency to wallow in the dramatic. Many chapters end on a melodramatic note. And as the book progresses this melodrama degenerates into prose that is more and more emotionally manipulative. In the first third of the book, I was very touched by Natalie’s reactions and the reactions of her family and friends. But by the end, I was mostly rolling my eyes.
The middle section of the novel seems largely unnecessary as nothing of import happens. Finally, in the last section, the action picks up as Natalie and her father reconnect in Colombia. This should have been the most interesting part of the book. I so enjoy “cultures colliding” types of stories and the romance part finally begins to be developed. But this section of the book is written with a subtle condescension towards the role of women, and that was a major irritant.
Nathan Camfield is one of the main characters in Raney’s previous books, Beneath a Southern Sky, and the “tragedy” of his story is highlighted over and over in this book. No one talks about Nate without mentioning his “tragic” fate, and it appears that he really did get the shaft in the last book. But he is a sympathetic character for the most part, until we see him in his home territory interacting with his own daughter. Then his “Father Knows Best” attitude asserts itself and we see him doing things like assigning Natalie to do the cooking for all of them, even though Natalie makes it clear that she has no skills in the kitchen. I had to wonder about this since the sexist message, if there, is very subtle. Does he assume that because Natalie has two X-chromosomes she will naturally take to the skillet? He and his colleague David both have a tendency to make Natalie decisions for her and watching Natalie try to hard to earn their approval was uncomfortable. At one point David thinks to himself, “Natalie had contributed much to the mission – not the least of which was a decent pot of coffee.”
After the Rains somehow managed to push a number of my buttons and at the same time disappoint. This is inspirational fiction, and I wasn’t expecting sweeping romance, but what was there seemed tepid and uninteresting. Natalie starts off as quite sympathetic, but her constant self-flagellation grew tedious. Finally, the book’s subtle patriarchal attitude (and believe me, I’m not a reader who usually complains about the Patriarchy) annoyed me to no end. This was supposed to be a tearjerker inspirational, but by the end of it no tears had fallen and I was not inspired.