I’m starting with one of the most recent books I read, RAIN SONG by Alice J. Wisler. Published by Bethany House (2008).
Stories set in the South rank high on my list of favorites, and this one delivers. Alice Wisler created a number of unique characters for Rain Song, including a sage grandmother who’s clever and lovable, an uncle who wears coveralls and a Pepsi t-shirt every day of the week, and a young niece that will make you laugh and cry. The story is set in Mount Olive, North Carolina, and the book features Nicole Michelin, who has lived with her grandmother since age two following her mother’s untimely death in Japan. So right off, we have the contrast of North Carolina and the mystery of what happened in Japan, and for the rest of the book, Nicole herself has one foot in each world.
What works about this and built the story world (sense of place) for me:
- The southern details. The voices of Mount Olive’s characters, with names that are distinctively southern. Their affinity for sweet tea and pineapple chutney. Family reunions. The Southern Truths that Ducee, Nicole’s grandmother, has built a life around. You can almost feel the sweltering heat and taste the chutney (served on soda crackers with a recipe at the end of the book).
- The Japanese connection. Nicole is afraid of Japan and what happened there, but her greatest treasure is a Japanese doll named Sazae. She also loves fish and writes columns about koi and other water feature topics on her Pretty Fishy website. Which is how she begins her correspondence with Harrison Michaels in Japan. Through his emails, Japan became alive for me, the reader, and I wanted desperately for Nicole to go there and meet him.
An aside here: Halfway through the book, I visited Alice’s ShoutLife page and told her I couldn’t wait to see what happened in Japan. I won’t tell you here, because that’s part of the charm of this book.
- The blending of the two worlds. The author doesn’t do this through flashbacks or lumbering description, but rather an economy of words that weaves the two settings together. When Nicole has ginger tea with her grandmother, you feel a touch of Japan. The doll, Sazae, also metaphorically spans the waters that separate the two cultures.
Rain Song is a lovely read and the debut novel for Alice Wisler. You can read more about her and the novel here.
Next up, a story that spans not only two cultures from opposite shores of America, but is also separated by more than 300 years. I hope you’ll stop by next Wednesday.