A.J. Wisler File:
Reviewed by Marshall Hughes
Rain Song by Alice J.Wisler
"Rain Song’s strengths are its well-developed characters."
Nicole Michelin is a 31-year-old
school teacher who likes fish, Earl Grey tea, and like her Southern-style
family, family reunions complete with
the family’s highly-treasured pineapple chutney. She doesn’t
like motorcycles, airplanes or things Japanese, the land of her birth.
Nicole and her father returned to America after a house fire had killed
her mother when Nicole was two years old. Nicole has no memories of Japan
and can’t seem to get much information about this
part of her life, especially from her father whose life has gone into a free fall of depression since the fire. She seems simultaneously attracted to and repelled by Japan.
Struggling through life as it is in Mount Olive, North Carolina, Nicole seems scared of a number of things, commitment being one of the main ones. One of her comforts, even in adulthood, is her cloth kimono doll named Sazae which she sleeps with each night and which is one of the only things to have survived the fire. Her missionary parents unavailable, one physically and one emotionally, Nicole feels an emptiness and uncertainty where her past is concerned.
One day after writing an online article for the Pretty Fishy website, Nicole receives a letter from a reader who, it turns out, lives in Japan. They start a correspondence and soon it is revealed that the reader, named Harrison, knew Nicole and her family in Japan. With not much excitement or any love interests in sight, Nicole starts to fall for Harrison despite the fact that he lives in that scariest of places, Japan. Still, there are many physical and emotional obstacles Nicole must overcome for this story to have a satisfying ending. Her curiosity, along with a gentle push from her grandmother, as well as a new-found strength, give her a chance.
Rain Song’s strengths are its well-developed characters, most notably Ducee, Nicole’s grandmother, and Monet, the daughter of Nichole’s cousin who is seemingly autistic and an interesting portrait of what life in the rural south must be like---a bit boring, with not a lot happening except for the occasional odd person to stare at and talk about.
The book is the first from author Alice Wisler, and at times it shows. It is only 17 pages from the start when Harrison is first introduced, and it is only three pages later (it could be argued only one sentence later) when Nicole starts falling for Harrison. Rereading these passages gives no clue as to why she falls for him so quickly - unless she is a bit desperate. There is also a rather unlikely roller coaster ride death which doesn’t add much to the story.
Not to be confused with a page turner, Rain Song is best read as life seems to be best lived in Mount Olive - slowly, with reflection on the good and bad. In the end, there is enough here to pique your interest and let your mind ponder the growth that the heroine has undergone as you sip that Earl Grey.
Marshall Hughes is a former sports writer for the Honolulu Advertiser. For most of the past 22 years he has taught English in Japan. He has taught at the university level in America, Japan and China. Among his hobbies are sports, traveling and photography. He has been to 41 countries and is always hoping to go somewhere new. He is an award-winning photographer in both Japan and America. His bi-lines include The Washington Post, The Pacific Daily News (Guam), The Contra Costa Times and several sports publications.