Caveat

Laura Kalpakian, Author
Laura Kalpakian, Author John F. Blair Publisher $19.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-89587-223-4
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""Rainmaker Returns to Valley"" trumpets the local paper. The year in this winning fable is 1916, and the place is Kalpakian's familiar, fictional St. Elmo, Calif., a Methodist and Mormon stronghold victimized by 302 straight days without rain. Into this arid landscape returns black sheep Hank Beecham after an absence of 20 years, invited by the city fathers in order to break the drought. Along with a reputation for saving towns in similar predicaments, Hank brings a ton of baggage: a drunken Confederate father whose ranch (aptly named Shiloh) was about as successful as the South's efforts in the war; brothers who were either drunks or felons; a sister who's a horse thief; an affair with an older woman; and a mother who taught him, ""Never forget a wrong or a slight."" Hank bets the city fathers $50,000 that he can fill the town's entire reservoir. There's one caveat: he gets credit for every drop of rain that falls, whether or not it can be clearly attributed to his rainmaking efforts. But Hank does his job a little too well. When, in the wake of his Old Testament downpour, the city fathers renege on their bet, Hank vows revenge. Kalpakian is skillful in evoking the conservative moral and cultural atmosphere of an earlier America; what might have been the plot of a conventional western is elevated to a fully dimensional story of human relationships under crisis. Written with graceful economy, her eighth book (after Graced Land) is an object lesson in being careful about what you ask for. More important, it is rich, never coy and startlingly original. (June)
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