Child of A Rainless Year
by Jane Linskold
Published by Tor
400 pages, 2005
Reviewed by Andi Shechter
Child of A Rainless Year is the slow, elegant and subtle story of Mira, a child raised, not happily, in New Mexico for several years who becomes a foster child and moves far away. Mira's mother, Colette, was so self-interested that nothing outside of herself mattered. Her daughter's existence only impinged on her vision as an extension of herself. There was no love, little communication and while there was no actual coldness, there was no warmth. There wasn't much of anything. Then Colette simply disappeared one day, and it was weeks before anyone knew. She had no impact on the people around her, and Mira's needs were taken care of by some of her teachers and the women she thought of as the silent women.
In her 50s, after the loving couple who cared for her have died, Mira learns that she apparently still owns the house she was raised in. It's a murky situation. There are trustees who are in charge of the financial and other details of Mira's life, details which included the requirements that the couple who raised her change their name and relocate. It's not a scary situation -- there's no witness protection program nor any hint of danger -- but there is certainly a hint of something less than normal.
Mira returns to Las Vegas, New Mexico, her home town. She lived in a Victorian style home, still cared for by Domingo Navidad, who has a strong, and somewhat strange connection to the house. Mira becomes an art teacher and discusses a love of color, which isn't all that evident much of the time. There are some small mentions of clothing with washes of color, but they're weirdly out of place, as are mentions of what she eats, as if these mundane details will cement her into a normal life. They felt oddly deliberate, as if somehow it was necessary to prove she's "normal" within an odd circumstance. The importance of color comes to the fore with the repainting of the house, with its amazing details -- leopards carved over windows, details everywhere. The narrative comes alive here, offering much to the reader.
Mira is understandably drawn to the house and to finding out exactly what happened. Why, when she was nine years old, did her mother just go off and never return? Who was her father? What was Colette's seeming obsession with mirrors?
There are diary sections written by Mira's foster mother which at times contribute to the narrative in a positive way and at times are merely frustrating; especially at the moments when the woman expresses her massive frustration at an unfulfilled life. It's another aspect of Child of A Rainless Year which feels sort of stuck on and nothing is resolved here. The diaries reveal that Mira's foster mother tried to learn things about Mira and Colette that she'd been told not to investigate. Her efforts are discovered and I found this way creepier than apparently any of the participants in the story did; back in the days before a lot of monitoring was part of life, her mail is opened, her purchases controlled by "the trustees" who are pretty creepy in their own right.
Child of A Rainless Year has great charm. The setting is richly described and awfully interesting. To a point. The almost shy feeling of the narration is difficult to describe or pin down. The house is fascinating, the constant discovery of new animals to paint and the personality that the place takes on is intriguing. But the book's pacing was difficult to deal with. It's not that I'd suggest the addition of a good, solid car chase, but I had read a third of the book before much really happened. The establishment of some of the puzzle needed to come well before page 130 -- not the resolution , mind you but just getting to the mystery and confirming what it is we're seeing.
There are odd otherworldly things going on. That's fine. But the descriptions of the area go on for too long as well. Clearly the author, who lives in New Mexico now, loves the place, but long descriptions of buildings and the history of them at length don't contribute enough to the story to justify detailed inclusion. And the one time I desperately would have liked an expository paragraph, there was none. (The author seemed to assume that everyone knew what a teleidoscope was, along with a kaleidoscope and I'd never encountered the first word in my life. The definition wasn't clear. Trivial I know, as any curious reader can look a word up -- which I did -- but the flow would not have been hurt by a few words of explication.)
By the two-thirds point in Child of A Rainless Year I was twitchy. What had felt almost languorous now felt like a tease. Maybe I was accepting what the weird story offered too easily or had things figured out ahead of the narrative. The story seemed to bog down enough that I wished that the whole book had been shorter so I could have found things out before I started feeling so dazed.
If you stay with the book until the end, you'll read a wonderful resolution, richly written and satisfying. I would have gladly given up 50 or more pages to have reached the ending of this exotic tale sooner. | July 2005
Andi Shechter has been a publicist, chat host, interviewer, convention-planner, essayist and reviewer. She lives in Seattle with far too many books, an old-but-cute purple computer, not enough soft toys (including a small but select hedgehog and gorilla collection), many figure skating videotapes and an esoteric collection of hot sauces. There's a Hugo Award on her mantelpiece which belongs to her partner, cartoonist and artist Stu Shiffman.