cover image History of the Rain

History of the Rain

Niall Williams. Bloomsbury, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-62040-647-2

Playwright, novelist, and nonfiction writer Williams’s (Four Letters of Love) new novel has a unique voice and a droll, comic tone that takes a surprising, serious turn. Ruthie Swain collapsed at college (“I have had Something Amiss, Something Puzzling, and We’re Not Sure Yet”), and is now confined to her bed at home in Ireland. Her father was a poet who left her an enormous quantity of books when he died, and she tries to find her way back to him through those books. Ruthie has a self-deprecating view of herself and the world, as well as a wry sense of humor. She uses literature to orient herself, searching for and creating connections in theory, while keeping the world around her, and the adoring Vincent Cunningham, at arm’s length. The novel’s “big secret” is obvious early on, and, therefore, the reveal is more of a relief than a surprise. One never buys that Ruthie is really sick—it comes across more as a Victorian lady’s psychosomatic problem than actual illness, even when the doctors sigh and shake their heads over blood work and send her to Dublin for treatment. The energy, tone, and premise of the book work well; the decision to view Ruthie’s experiences through the lens of literature pays off. And though the novel doesn’t have a strong resolution, Williams makes so many good stylistic and storytelling choices that his latest is well worth the read. (May)