Following his acclaimed debut, Waterborne, Bruce Murkoff gives us another American panorama with a Civil War novel unlike any other.
Born near Rondout, New York, to a family steeped in wars both before and after independence, Will Harp returns home in 1864 for the first time in a decade, disconsolate over the campaigns being waged against Indians in the West even as the nation is busy tearing itself apart. His father is now buried in the Harp graveyard, surrounded by two preceding generations, and much else, too, has changed.
For Mickey Blessing, though, these are heady times. Serving the darker needs of a prosperous businessman, Harry Grieves, he commands fear and respect as few Irish immigrants have managed to do in a society still hostile to their presence. The man he’d replaced had enlisted and is now missing in the horrors of Cold Harbor, leaving Mickey’s sister, Jane, fearing the worst about her fiancé’s survival.
Coley Hinds, orphaned as a child, is fending for himself and fast growing savvy as the town around him bustles with trade and tragedy. In his stable-basement lodgings, he reads Western serials that he hopes will describe his future, but then falls under the sway of Mickey, who recognizes in him the powerless waif he once had been himself.
All of these lives and more are intertwined when the bones of a mastodon surface on a neighboring farm that Will quickly purchases, pursuing a fervent boyhood interest. He finds an eager assistant in Coley, who suddenly needs refuge from budding criminality when Mickey suffers a hideous loss and develops an unhealthy obsession with a baby found on Jug Hill, where free black people have lived for generations. And before long, every fate is uncertain as calamity threatens to envelop them all.
Red Rain is masterful in both its specifics—Coley’s pet squirrel, the erotic tableaux Will’s photographer friend contrives, the bakery where Jane finds comfort as well as income—and its broad historical sweep, which reaches from the settling of the Hudson River Valley to the bloodshed now ravaging the South and the West. Its characterizations are impeccable, whether of Grieves’s dream of a grand hotel or Mickey’s love of water, with not one gripping love story but several. And its plotting is relentless, weaving stories from various times and places that inevitably converge, right here in Rondout, with heart-stopping intensity. Engrossing and revelatory, Red Rain shows an extraordinarily talented writer expanding his already great range, and at the very top of his form.
From the Hardcover edition.