Rain Before Morning
by Michael Poole
Published by Harbour Publishing
318 pages, 2006
War In the Woods
Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen
A classic love story, which takes place around the time of WW I, Rain Before Morning is set in a remote settlement along Canada's western coast. In fact, Silva Landing is very similar to the author's own beloved childhood home of Grantham's Landing where he appears to have taken to his coastal life as much as his young character, Nathan.
Why set this star-crossed lovers' saga in this period? Firstly, because one of the main threads of the plot concerns deserters and conscientious objecters to the War. Secondly, because some aspects of the story's plot are loosely based on history. A third reason comes from the author himself in Rain Before Morning's acknowledgements: "Although enough books have been written about World War I to fill entire libraries, I am aware of only one book on the role of Canadian women overseas."
It was love at first sight when young Nathan first spied 17-year-old Leah upon her arrival on the weekly steamer from Vancouver. More mature than Nathan and infinitely more worldly-wise, Leah reciprocates. The mother's fears for the younger of her two daughters are well founded; one wonders how a convent girl in post-World War I has managed to become so sexually precocious.
She manages to convince the naive and less than enthusiastic Nathan to run away with her. After an idyllic few months drifting up and down the coast in Nathan's small boat, they are discovered. Her outraged mother ships her daughter back to the Montreal convent to complete grade 12 while Nathan, who dreams of university but never gets within sniffing distance of it, goes off to log on the central coast. A few years later, unemployment climbs, the father becomes seriously injured, and soon Nathan -- an only son -- is sending money home to help support his parents. Bye bye university.
Initially Leah writes avidly to her lover but his rare letters have no forwarding address. Surprisingly, while being frog marched off to the nuns in Montr?al, she reaches an agreement with her mother: if she completes high school and trains as a nurse, her parents will leave her free to do as she pleases. Considering that up till now she has pretty much done that anyway, we don't really believe her. Nathan, however, never tests her honor. He writes seldom and when he does, does not give a forwarding address. She eventually graduates from high school, attains her nursing credentials and is stationed at a hospital near the fighting in France in May of 1917. Here the injustice and brutality of the war stun her and she suffers a serious physical attack by a marauding soldier. Unfortunately for the reader, although not for Leah, this part of her life is over all too soon. The tale comes to life here, where the novel splits to chronicle Leah's experiences and point of view followed by Nathan's life in the bush as a logger.
In France, Leah toils bravely and conscientiously even after her slow recovery from the vicious attack, until her feisty attitude and idealism run her afoul of the authorities. She refuses to submit to a massive deception and so is eventually sent home in disgrace.
Now back to Nathan, who continues to log during the war, an occupation that's considered an essential service, as Sitka logs are required for airplanes. He suffers a serious logging accident, however, and winds up back with his parents in Silva Landing, where Leah finds him upon her return.
If only the estranged couple could now be permitted to get on with their lives and live happily ever after. However, the war is still raging; Prime Minster Borden is demanding that all eligible men report for war duty, and Nathan is now pronounced fit for battle. He will not fight, however, and Leah has always supported that. What options does he have? Eventually, after a botched repeat of their teenage flight, he makes yet another foolhardy decision. In the meantime, Leah has become pregnant.
From here on Nathan's life and the novel's plot spiral slowly down.
Youthful readers should enjoy this adventurous tale with just a smattering of history thrown in. What youth does not want to become Huckleberry Finn from time to time? What young girl doesn't dream of running away from a strict parent with her boyfriend? Or becoming a nurse and saving soldiers?
This is Poole's first novel. A journalist and freelance filmmaker, a producer of documentaries, and a failed marijuana grower, the author has written several popular non-fiction works, one of them about his botched efforts to grow "B.C. Bud." | January 2007
Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.