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History of the Rain by Niall Williams

History of the Rain by Niall Williams
It rains in a lot in Ireland, so its people’s stories are steeped in water. In History of the Rain, the Swain family strives to live up to the ”Impossible Standard” set by their great-grandfather, but they are always falling short—oftentimes tragically, sometimes humorously.

Like Robert Louis Stevenson, plain Ruth Swain is bedbound with a puzzling illness. She reads the 3,958 books her father read—catalogued by number as he acquired them—and then stacked in her attic bedroom.  As the medical system tries to find out what is wrong with her, she writes a book to “find” her father, Virgil. As she puts it: “We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling.”

Nineteen-year-old Ruth has set herself a nearly impossible task: to tell the history of her family and of Ireland as the rain falls down the windows of her attic room. The Shannon River flows by her house in the village of Faha, goes into the sea, and becomes the rain that becomes the river again. Like some rivers, History of the Rain’s plot meanders, and it has a quirky style that is part genealogical research. This novel is full of literary allusions and poetry and has a dash of the charming Irish gift of the gab.

Following the edict of the Impossible Standard, Ruth recreates the lives of her grandparents, her parents, and the characters of her entire village in her story. With her descriptions, readers will feel right at home in Faha. They will meet her grandfather, Abraham, who writes a book on the myths of salmon fishing, as well as the “lovely men” of her village, such as the undertaker known as Jesus Mary and Joseph Carty, and her suitor, Vincent Cunningham.  She also tells the love story of her mother and her father and the tragedy of her twin brother, Aeney.

By writing the story of her past, Ruth finds the strength to meet her future. She must believe she will be all right. She certainly has so much life in her writing as her story flows from past to the present and into the future—like the cycle of the rain.