Michael C. Boxall
on March 14, 2012 :
Realizing I don’t have an infinite amount of time ahead of me, I no longer feel compelled to finish every book I start. I did finish Where the Rain Gets In, but came away puzzled about what the writer wanted me to get out of it.
On one level it’s an account of how the repercussions of a single act ripple through different lives. That’s what attracted me in the first place. The act is an audacious (if slightly implausible) scheme to get money out of a Las Vegas casino by counting the cards at blackjack. No, I can’t tell you how it’s done. But it is possible. The enterprising cardsharp is a Belfast boy, Mike Maguire, who is studying law at Manchester University It’s the start of the ‘80s, and Margaret Thatcher has just come to power. Mike has a boyish charm: he attracts people and manipulates them. Among his flock is Katie McGuire, native Mancunian and survivor of some ghastly but unspecified abuse which has left her with the unshakable habit of slashing her inner thighs with a razor blade. An interesting pair of characters to throw together, and the book’s main strength is the delicacy and skill with which they are depicted.
Where the Rain Gets In starts with Mike calling Katie twenty years after the Vegas stunt, which went even better than planned when he recycled his blackjack winnings on the roulette wheel. They’re rich, -ish. But afterward, escaping across the desert with Bruno, the third member of the gang, Katie kills him when he makes a sexual advance. It’s a vivid scene, this killing in the night with the saguaro cacti and the distant lights of Phoenix glimmering across the desert.
Unfortunately, after this long flashback, the pot goes off the boil. There’s not much more action to speak of, just a lot of narration and dialog. “Show, don’t tell” is the first rule of fiction writing, and when it is flouted you see immediately why it’s so important.
I thought at first I was reading a tragedy, gifted young man fails to achieve potential because of … what? That, it seems to me, is the book’s main structural weakness. There’s a protagonist—two if you include Katie, three if you count Mike’s frustrated wife Margaret. But there is no antagonist. The nearest thing to a villain is the shadowy figure of Margaret Thatcher, looming in the wings. So rather than some climactic struggle in which good triumphs over evil, or vice versa, things just fizzle out. Is Katie haunted by guilt because she killed Bruno? No. Has new information come to light which links her to the murder? No. Is she finally going to have sex with Mike? No. Is Margaret, after a bungled attempt to seduce Mike’s business partner, going to kick him out? No. Are the facts that Katie’s name is McGuire and Mike’s wife’s name is Margaret relevant? Presumably, yes. But I don’t know why.
I finished Where the Rain Gets In with more questions than answers, and the feeling that I had missed the point. But it did interest me enough to read through to the end, and think the time well spent.
(reviewed 5 days after purchase)