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.
About Bruce Murkoff
Bruce Murkoff lives with his wife, the artist Suzanne Caporael, in Stone Ridge, New York.
“A rich, thick stew of an historical novel, powerfully imagined and thoroughly believable…Red Rain is an engaging and bloody-minded read of great conviction that hints at a dark vision of the American present through its confident handling of our past….Gorgeous.” —Peter Behrens, The Washington PostFrom the Hardcover edition.
“Remarkable….Written with a gritty, melancholy beauty, Red Rain is American storytelling at its best.” —Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today
“A sprawling, meandering novel, chock-full of sensory detail that is sometimes painfully acute…Murkoff is a master at [the] evocation of time and place.” —Michele Leber, Booklist
“[A] dense, deliberate, and lush saga that will surely appeal to readers who appreciate brawny historicals.” —Publishers Weekly
“It is not sufficient to say that Bruce Murkoff is a terrific writer of historical fiction. He’s a terrific writer, period, and his ability shines through again in Red Rain.” —Kevin Baker
“In prying his spade to uncover a remote backwater and its inhabitants during seminal moments of America’s history, the Civil War as well as the Indian wars of the western expansion, Bruce Murkoff takes a tremendous risk, but the result is page-turning brilliance. With a remarkable cast of characters and spot-on authenticity, Red Rain delivers no simple tale of love, loss, greed, ambition and racism but delves beyond these categories, spinning an engrossing tale of the viciousness and hopes of the human spirit. Given the central setting on the mid-Hudson river, it’s impossible not to consider the possibility that Bruce Murkoff may be a modern Rip Van Winkle, emerging to bear witness. Red Rain is that rare achievement, a novel both grand and deeply grounded.” —Jeffrey Lent
“Bruce Murkoff is the most natural novelist I’ve read in years, very much in the tradition of Dickens and Twain. His dialogue is as pitch-perfect as birdsong at dawn. Red Rain is steeped in the natural world of great unspoiled swatches of 19th-century American geography. Best of all, Murkoff writes about his splendidly varied characters as easily and affectionately as if he grew up with them all. I haven’t been so engrossed by a novel from this era since Lonesome Dove.” —Howard Frank Mosher