Friday, March 19, 2010


The Small Rain, Madeleine L'Engle, Vanguard Press, 1945, 371 pp

This is Madeleine L'Engle's first novel and what a beautiful book it is. (I missed it when I was reading books from 1945.) The story opens when Katherine is ten years old. Her mother, a famous concert pianist, is somewhere unknown to Katherine, recovering from a nearly fatal accident. Manya, an actress in the New York City theater, is caring for Katherine, who has a bit part in Manya's play.

Katherine does not want to be an actress. Her dream is to be a pianist, like her mother. She also wants her mother. She gets both of those wishes but their fulfillment comes with heartbreak, struggle and much loneliness. 

Katherine's coming of age tale takes place between the World Wars. She has a most unusual childhood and adolescence for an American girl, part of which is a deeply unhappy period at boarding school in Switzerland, where her only consolations are long hours of piano practice and a beloved piano teacher.

Later, back in Greenwich Village, as her piano studies continue, she experiences love, betrayal and more heartbreak. She learns to discern whether or not friends are trustworthy and comes to terms with her priorities as a serious musician.

L'Engle vividly captures the wild emotions of adolescence, the sacrifices of becoming a true artist, the perfidy of others and the cost of finding oneself. I wish I had known of this novel in my early adult years. It was clear to me, after reading The Small Rain, why she became such a successful writer. She has got that view of the independence women must always struggle to achieve and maintain; she knows the prices we pay. Her awareness that at the bottom of it all is love for ourselves and for others, as well as for art, shines through the story. I must say it again: beautiful.

(The Small Rain is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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