Mother of Rain is one of the best books that I have read in the last five years. Karen Spears Zacharias has a wonderful sense of place, a terrific way with dialogue, and firm grip on the emotional potential of good story-telling. I will be recommending the book to all of my colleagues and friends.
Thom Chambliss, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
Fall 2013 Okra Pick
Southeast Independent Booksellers
by Ralph Bowden and Chapter16.org
In a new historical novel, Karen Spears Zacharias conveys a complex drama set during a supposedly simpler time and place
Maizee is gripped by what might be called grief-induced schizophrenia. She starts hearing voices soon after her mother’s death and periodically thereafter in times of stress. She is prone to hallucinations—“A brigade of roaches, some nearly three inches long, would line up around the bed in the morning”—she cuts herself, refuses to bathe, can’t get out of bed, and is afraid the self-destructive voices may drive her to harm her son, too. Her aunt and uncle try to protect her from distress, she knows, “‘cause they figured me to be weak-minded and they feared bad news might render me altogether addled.”
Maizee’s story is not Zacharias’s central thematic concern, however. Mother of Rain is much more essentially an exploration of the nature of community in a rural setting. The people inhabiting Christian Bend are a sympathetic group, including the childless aunt and uncle who take Maizee in when her father abandons her; Burdy Lutrell, the mysterious, dark, Melungeon healer from over the mountain; Zebulon, Maizee’s devoted husband, among others. Zacharias gives many of them their own chapters. Zeb’s mostly feature his experiences in the Army as a paratrooper during the D-Day invasion, though his chapters also include many flashbacks to the center of his life, Maizee and Christian Bend. All the other chapters are rooted there.
The fictional folks of Christian Bend are more authentic than the actual people in any social history. Zacharias convincingly portrays what they eat and wear, how and where they work, their favorite places for solitude, fishing, or love-making, and the role of religion in their lives, and the descriptions of rooms and furniture, amusements, and mannerisms reveal the memoirist’s skill. There’s little mention of any schooling, and some characters hold to what contemporary readers would call superstition. When Maizee gets bad news, for example, “Burdy came over early the morning after I got word of Zeb’s death and hung sheets over the mirrors, to keep the spirits at bay.” But the people of Christian Bend also discuss complicated concepts like predestination as they “worked topping and suckering tobacco” until the “sharp whistle of a white-crowned sparrow interrupted.”
Mother of Rain offers plenty of tragedies, jealous tension and foreboding, nightmares and visions, but no real villains. Even Zeb’s sergeant in the Army is a sensitive counselor, and, back home, the community “mucckly low-down … juker” and the gossipy telephone operator, are, in the end, sympathetic characters who try to help Maizee weather her storms.
In simple prose, Mother of Rain preserves the lives, voices, and places Zacharias knew from summers spent with her aunt and grandmother in Christian Bend, Tennessee, in Hawkins County. Zacharias portrays the fields, mountains, rivers, and creeks that her characters’ love with the sensitivity of someone who knows and loves them, too.
|From the Author||Edit|
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR BOOK CLUBS 1) Hitty: Her First Hundred years is a children’s novel written by Rachel Field and published in 1929. It won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children’s literature. The book and Maizee’s Hitty doll play an important role in the plot of Mother of Rain. Why do you think Hitty became such a vital part of Maizee’s life both as a child and then again as an adult?
2) Burdy has a vision about Maizee that she can’t define until she finds Maizee cutting herself. Leela-Ma later finds that Maizee has cut herself out of all the family photographs. What symbolism can you find in Maizee’s action?
3) After her mother’s death, Maizee’s father sends her to live with Doc and Aunt Leela. Do you agree with Maizee’s father’s decision to send her away? How do you think both the tragedy of her mother’s death and her father’s reaction affected Maizee?
4) Leela-Ma has never had children of her own when Maizee is sent to live with her. Do you think her joy in finally having a child to raise overshadows the grief of the loss of her sister? How do you think Leela-Ma’s conflicting emotions influenced Maizee?
5) What is revealed about Burdy and Leela-Ma’s background? How do you think their relationship influenced their actions? How much do you think our feelings toward others influence our present decisions and actions?
6) Zeb knew that Maizee was not acting normal, at least in their early days of their marriage. Do you agree with his decision to join the army? Do you think Maizee’s health, or her ability to raise a deaf child alone, was something he considered when he deployed?
7) Burdy has a gift that she calls the “curse of knowing.” Have you ever had a gift or talent that felt more like a curse? How did you deal with it? Do you think that Burdy could have used her gift differently to save Maizee?
8) Maizee clearly suffered from some form of mental illness. Of the people closest to her, two of them are doctors or healers. Do you think the people closest to her understood the seriousness of her illness?
9) In Chapter 29, Maizee says, “I know’d Zeb was dead before the telegram came.” If Maizee knew Zeb was dead, why do you think she refused to attend his service without a body?
10) Maizee develops her own way to communicate with Rain. Why do you think she didn’t bother explaining to him that his father wasn’t coming home?
11) Some chalked Maizee’s illness up to the baby blues or postpartum depression. What do you think were the first signs of Maizee’s mental illness? Did her problems run deeper than postpartum depression? Do you think perceptions of mental illness have changed since then? Are there better resources today than there would have been in Maizee’s time?
12) The people of Christian Bend have their own hierarchy system, and often look down on those they consider beneath them. Give some examples of this. Why are they quick to point their fingers at Kade Mashburn whenever trouble arises?
13) Leela-Ma says,”There are times when the best thing a person can say is nothing at all. Rain taught us that.” Has there been a time in your life where you’ve learned the importance of being silent?
14) The author chose to tell this story from the different perspectives of the main characters. Did this approach help you understand the characters better? Did you identify better with any of the characters? If so, which ones?
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“A brilliant gem of a novel carved out of hard, uncompromising times and lives. Her remote mountain setting conceals misery, mystery, and madness — but also love, which comes in many forms. Zacharias examines these intertwined lives with great compassion and daring; she is a wonderful writer.
- Lee Smith, author of “Guests on Earth”Karen Spears Zacharias captures the humor, spirituality and language of Appalachia with stunning authenticity, through characters that leap off the page. With Mother of Rain, Zacharias has done her part to help preserve our mountain heritage for future generations.”
-Amy Greene, author of “Bloodroot
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“Evocative depiction of the hills and hollows, the language, lore, and beliefs of rural Upper East Tennessee in the 40′s. Karen Spears Zacharias paints an affectionate picture of simple people struggling to cope with social problems that we haven’t managed to overcome in the 21st century. From the opening chapter, I was hooked.”
-Lindy Riley, President of Friends of the Library, Greeneville, TN, Ph. D.”Haunting debut. The unforgettable story of Maizee Hurd is one of hardscrabble life in the mountains of East Tennessee–a world filled with the mystery of the “old ways,” where loss and tragedy are as commonplace as rain. With clarity and great compassion, Karen Spears Zacharias captures the fragility of the human heart. I could still hear the cadence of Appalachian voices long after I turned the last page.”
-Todd Johnson, author of “The Sweet By and By”
|About the Author||Edit|
A former newspaper reporter and columnist, Karen Spears Zacharias learned the craft of storytelling from her Appalachian ancestors. Karen teaches journalism at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wa.. Her work has been featured in Good Morning America, Huffington Post, New York Times, USA Today, CNN and National Public Radio. Mother of Rain is her sixth book and her first novel. A popular speaker and a contributing blogger at Patheos.com.
A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder (MacAdam/Cage)
Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? (Zondervan)
Where’s Your Jesus Now? (Zondervan)
After the Flag has been Folded (HarperCollins)
Benched (Mercer Univ. Press).