RAINN stands for Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network and the short story anthology, Summer Rain, conceived and organized by Audra North (wow, what a labour of love!) and edited by Sarah Frantz, was created to raise money for it. It was an act of generosity and care on the contributors’ and editor’s parts. Moreover, there are some darn good stories here: the romance reader enjoys some wonderful short stories, while contributing to a worthy organization. Win-win! The stories are an interesting variety of contemporary romance modes. Some are quite explicit while others are sweet. All are solid; some stand out as Miss Bates’ favourites.
In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Portia says, “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven … ” There is no better phrase to describe these stories and, indeed, when the romance genre succeeds in moving us. In a broken world, romance fills tiny rifts that appear in the daily grind. This humble and heartfelt anthology is, like the best of the romance genre, sprinkling a little mercy over terrible events. Many characters in these stories are in need of healing and mercy: a reaching-across of one character to another to make a connection, heal an old wound, create a new and better space for two people offering and sharing fellow-feeling and, for some, love, or at least love’s possibilities.
Two of Miss Bates’ favourite stories from this collection were Ruthie Knox’s “Redemption” and Mary Ann Rivers’ “Rainy Season.” She loved them for two reasons; one, because they have unique protagonists; and, two, because heroines and heroes are placed in economic difficulties. This is so refreshing, even while it isn’t happy to read about. It’s real and makes the possibility of future happiness more believable and interesting. Their lives are not in-the-street hard, but they struggle to make a living, or live in a decent place, or find their way amidst straitened economic realities.
Knox’s heroine and hero are not bright and shiny middle-class happy, with cars and nicely trimmed lawns. Heroine Jessie, hailing from an abusive childhood, moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to plant roots by buying a house and running a cheese shop. Her lover, Mike, betrayed and divorced by his wife, father to two, runs his mother’s diner. He is the failed partner of a roofing company and possessor of a useless business degree. Jessie and Mike are owners of failed businesses and lost dreams. They’re sad and find release in each others bodies, but remain strangers. When the story opens, they don’t know each other. Jessie says of her desire for Mike, “Blank me out, erase me.” When Jessie loses home and business, she makes a first move towards “redemption”: she reaches out to tell Mike; he cares for her, wants to help, but “I got nothing,” he says. Nothing is the best place to start. That’s what they do, they start. There’s hope.
In Rivers’ “Rainy Season,” Lisa and Mark see each other daily because “barista” Lisa hands Mark his morning coffee. Lisa is 26 with an MFA, a ceramicist who made beautiful red bowls. Something blocks her creativity; she experienced failure, loss, and betrayal. She looks at her red bowls and sees only imperfection. Mark is a math teacher, hopeful, committed, and hard-working, but his profession, as every teacher finds out, is not one that is respected and certainly not one that receives due compensation. Miss Bates thought his conclusions about teaching were the best she’s read, ” … I get home at six, or seven, tired from staying late with meetings and lesson plans and all the shit that makes people quit teaching because they never tell you about it, never tell you it’s not nine months of short days and summers off, it’s these endless sixty-hour weeks, seventy-hour weeks, and parents emailing you at night – ” Miss Bates loved that Mark and Lisa began from a place that told them they didn’t “get it right;” through conversation, sharing, and touch, they have a chance, a better place together than apart.
Miss Bates loved Molly O’Keefe’s “The Heart Of It,” story of Gabe Peterson and Elena, of all the stories in this anthology the most psychologically complex. Gabe was sexually abused, but not utterly broken by the experience when the story opens. His wonderful parents made sure he had the help he needed. He’s young, 24 to Elena’s 30. They meet in a highrise bar; below them, Toronto twinkles and beckons. Elena, child of an abusive father, mother dead, mother herself to a deaf and asthmatic boy, Simon, is an escort. She’s a survivor, choosing who she gives herself to and working towards a real estate agent’s degree, ensuring that her boy has the best. Gabe, hockey-player-huge, is a successful young adult author. Their sexual encounter is awkward and painful, but also good … funny and moving. They recognize something in each other, some vulnerability, some past hurt. They tell each other about what happened to them and are strengthened in the telling, a theme that runs throughout Summer Rain. The rightness of their being together is evident in a final perfect scene: a woman in a red sweater, a little boy, a man, and some books; it’s Christmas, what could be better and more apt to two wounded and deserving souls?
The story Miss Bates enjoyed most of all was Amy Jo Cousins’ marriage-in-trouble narrative, “The Rain In Spain.” Magda and Javi have been married a year, but much of that time saw Magda pursuing her travel writing career. They are on a belated honeymoon in a drought-stricken Seville, Spain. What Miss Bates loved about this story is the strong sense of place: heat, dust, history, beauty and tension, sexual and emotional, made for a powerful vignette of a marriage at the crossroads of “Should I stay, or should I go?” (with thanks to The Clash 😉 ) The crux of their problem is their opposites-attract shotgun marriage: they are powerfully attracted to, but don’t know each other very well. They run in opposite directions: Magda, so frightened that beautiful manly-man Javi might realize he made a mistake in marrying her, that she might not measure up, so she runs away; and Javi, a man who came to the US as an illegal alien, yearns for roots and settlement after a frightening and peripatetic childhood. It feels like they can’t give each other anything. When the rain falls in Spain, Javi and Magda, tipsy in the wee hours after a rainy night on the town, make love. They know they must break through to each other, or give up. Truths are revealed in whispers and seeds are sown for a better future now that the earth is lush and ready. It isn’t about where you are, it’s who you’re with; as Magda promised Javi on the Goa beach where they married, “I can be your country. You can come home to me.”
As the “winter of our discontent” once again approaches, give Summer Rain a chance.
Summer Rain (Love In the Rain Series I) is available in e-book format at all the usual vendors.
Miss Bates is grateful to the editor and authors for an ARC, via a Twitter convo with Amy Jo Cousins, in order for Miss B. to consider Summer Rain for review. Miss Bates is grateful to Langston Hughes’ wonderful poem, “April Rain Song,” for her review’s subtitle.