The History of Rain: A Review By T.S. Mcneil

When is a war not a war, or when does a war really end? Can the impacts ever really be shaken off until every person who remembers it is dead? For Canadian novelist Stephens Gerard Malone, the answer is no, at least if his novel The History of Rain is anything to go by. Written in a firmly traditional third-person narrative style, the 233-page novel subverts most assumptions about several things. It is a war story, or an anti-war story, in which the war itself is rarely mentioned directly, notably light on gory battle scenes. It is a love story where the central romance is rather dubious, and a story set in ‘golden age’ Hollywood that makes Kennth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon look almost flattering. 

Far from a meandering or indulgent ‘philosophical’ piece, the story reads more like a biographical or historical account than a novel.  With a minimum of asides or head-hopping shenanigans, staying razor focused on the main character, Rain, in the moment, no matter what the moment might be. It is not even entirely clear if Rain is his first name or his last. It also doesn’t really matter, he is Rain, and this is what happened to him. 

An ethos that extends to an overall generalism applied to anyone who isn’t him, descriptions (i.e. ‘the red-haired man’ and ‘the old gardener’) used in place of more usual character names. An approach that works well with the novel’s third-person limited perspective. 

Opening in 1915, there is a brief but detailed detail of the circumstances that took Rain out of the war, much of it fairly passive, Rain in not much of a position to do much at that particular moment. Soon enough it ends, and we get right into the aftermath which will resonate through the rest of the narrative like a shadow following a few steps behind like Ryuk in Death Note. At least partly a story of resistance, of the mental if not physical sense, it is at the hospital where Rain is taken to recover from his extensive injuries that he finds something to lie for again. Ditching the hero’s journey approach taken by so many historical narratives, whether nor not they are true, it is not power or glory that saves Rain from his dreadful situation, but plants. A chance encounter with the hospital’s groundskeeper, setting his salvaged life in a direction few would have expected least of all him.

Developing into a celebrated horticulturist, it is these skills that, incongruously, brings him to Hollywood during the decadent dream of the interwar years. Most people just trying to forget everything they’ve been through. While others, such as the Dadaists saw the situation for what it was. Even in a world dominated by earthly indulgence, Rain wants little to do with it, demonstrating priorities much more in line with those of the British Romantics in the Georgian period. As a connection to nature, through gardening, and the pursuit of love, either real or imagined, are the driving forces of Rain’s existence. 

Born in the far north, T.S. McNeil was attending art galleries before he could walk. Earning concurrent degrees in Art History and Political Science, he has written on Arts and Culture both in print and online since 2002, starting while still in college. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his dog, and firmly believes that Marie-Gabrielle Capet was criminally underrated.

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