James P. Blaylock,
The Rainy Season
(Ace, 1999)

James P. Blaylock's The Rainy Season is a subtle, haunting novel about obsession and memory.

It is the rainy season in coastal southern California, and the water forced up from its underground channels creates pools and fills wells to over-brimming, as does the well in Phil Ainsworth's yard. To Phil, it's just a well, but to others it is a place of power, a portal opened through the sacrifice of a child. During the rainy season, these people watch and wait.

A widower, Phil now lives alone in the house he inherited from his mother, still full of her things and his memories of her. He has grown accustomed to his solitude and has no idea that it is about to be broken.

A late night call brings bad news: his twin sister, Marianne, is dead, and he is the legal guardian of her 9-year-old daughter, Betsy. When he flies to Austin, he finds his guardianship challenged by a neighbor, Mrs. Darwin, who seems to feel she has a claim on Betsy. Later, she tells Phil that she is missing a trinket, a small glass inkwell, and she implies that Betsy has stolen it.

The inkwell is Betsy's, and its value lies in its effect when held, when it generates realistic memories. It is, in fact, a piece of memory, just like other small items found in the area where Phil lives, many of which are said to capture the memories of drowned children. When Phil and Betsy get back to his house, they are caught up in events beyond their control as the past collides with the present, and the well reveals secrets he never would have guessed.

Blaylock gives The Rainy Season a sense of place with striking imagery and lucid prose. The plot develops quietly, sneaking up on the reader as it develops and the pieces start to fall into place. The horror in the story lies not in supernatural violence, but rather in the motives that reside in the human heart, and what happens when an obsession feeds those motives.

These characters, such as the antiques dealer driven to find the crystal containing his own daughter's memories, his assistant who will do anything for profit, or Mrs. Darwin, convinced that she is Betsy's rightful guardian, cannot see beyond their own desires, effectively dehumanizing anyone else. The tension builds slowly, then sweeps the reader up like an autumnal flood. They are well-drawn and authentic, people you could see anywhere, which makes them scarier than any ghost.

James P. Blaylock has a well-deserved reputation as a writer who is a cut above the rest, and The Rainy Season is certainly proof of that evaluation.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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