Miracle in a Dry Season
About This Book
It’s 1954 and Perla Long’s arrival in the sleepy town of Wise, West Virginia, was supposed to go unnoticed. She just wants a quiet, safe place for her and her daughter, Sadie, where the mistakes of her past can stay hidden. But then drought comes to Wise, and Perla is pulled into the turmoil of a town desperately in need of a miracle.
Casewell Phillips has resigned himself to life as a bachelor . . . until he meets Perla. She’s everything he’s sought in a woman, but he can’t get past the sense that she’s hiding something. As the drought worsens, Perla’s unique gift divides the town in two, bringing both gratitude and condemnation, and placing the pair in the middle of a storm of anger and forgiveness, fear and faith.
I really enjoyed the historical setting and portrayal of small-town life in 1950s Appalachia. Thomas did a great job of portraying the social and religious prejudices of the story’s historical setting to really add conflict, both internally and externally. Casewell’s relationship with his father also provided great tension through the first half of the book. I had a great visual sense of the small town of Wise and its many interesting residents, and many great local details enhanced the Appalachian setting.
“Miracle” in this book’s title for a reason: Perla is a miracle worker, mysteriously producing never-ending meals a la the loaves and fishes parable in the New Testament. Her gift is subsequently hailed as a miracle and condemned as witchcraft throughout the story, but it is never explained. It simply is. The townspeople express a great deal of spiritual and social prejudice against Perla and her illegitimate daughter, and the pastor goes to fanatical lengths to condemn her and turn the town against her.
This book’s setting and miraculous story does offer some unique and unpredictable twists for the historical fiction genre. This story will appeal to women readers who enjoy sentimental historical fiction set in small towns. The themes of prejudice and personal worth would provide some excellent talking points for teen and young adult readers, as well. I would not recommend this story to my non-Christian friends. The overall gentle pace and tone of this story make for a leisurely weekend read, if not a gripping page-turner. I may read future titles from this debut author to see how her skill and voice continue to develop.
The overall writing felt a bit perfunctory to me. It may have been intentionally simplistic to try to reflect the story world, but it drew enough attention to itself to distract me from the story on more than one occasion. The dialogue, too, often felt prosaic, as though the writer’s voice wasn’t yet fully developed.
I was caught off guard by how much this story focused on the hero, Casewell. Perla was far from the strong heroine of my expectations, and most often felt like a secondary character the others just talked about. Perhaps it was the way this story began with Casewell’s point-of-view, but I never felt connected to Perla, and ultimately the book never felt like it was truly about her. Casewell, on the other hand, was very strongly developed, thus emphasizing the imbalance with Perla, and his relationships with his father and other townspeople were particularly moving. A small-town book necessarily includes a cast of dozens, but they were well-written and easily distinguishable. The antagonistic preacher likewise did much to enhance the story.
The overall story structure was a bit off for me. I thought it was great for about the first 75% or so, but it felt like it ended then, with the funeral of Casewell’s father. Everything after that felt like a long, drawn-out epilogue and I caught myself beginning to skim ahead at that point. In a sense, I felt this story suffered from a split personality, as the opening three-quarters of the book were more historical fiction, but then, once that story thread was tied up, it tried to become an historical romance. I would’ve preferred seeing those two threads—the small town suffering through a drought and Casewell and Perla’s romance—resolved more closely together, to keep the pace and feel of the story more even throughout.
Sadly, the romantic tension was completely nonexistent for me. While the book’s description led me to expect a sweet romance between a reluctant bachelor and a woman with a tarnished reputation, in the end it felt like all of the conflict and tension in their relationship was told to me by the townspeople, and never seen for myself directly in Casewell or Perla. Thus the last quarter of the book, in which Perla tries to leave and Casewell literally chases her across the country, felt rather out of place for me because I was never invested in their relationship.
In terms of potentially questionable content, Casewell’s father is a heavy smoker dying of lung cancer. A town drunk is frequently scoffed at, even after he cleans up his act. Perla openly admits to having had an affair with a married man and bearing his child. A scene between the pastor and Perla borders on an act of sexual abuse.
This debut historical novel explores themes of prejudice, condemnation and personal worth in small-town Appalachia during the 1950s. At times truly moving, with a keen eye for historical detail, the overall structure of this story leaves a bit to be desired in terms of writing technique, character development, and romantic tension.
Available August 5, 2014 from Bethany House Publishers