Reviewed by Mary McIntyre.
Donna Milner’s book, The Promise of Rain, is a story that takes place in the 1960s. Its theme is relevant today. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome was not a recognized or treatable symptom following WW II. The protagonist’s father is a troubled survivor of a bleak incarceration in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Hong Kong.
Our introduction to the Coulter family begins in British Columbia in 1962. A family is coping with a father’s under achievement, due in part to alcoholism. When his wife Lucy suddenly dies and he must care for their three children, his ineffective behaviour affects his 20-year old son, Frankie, a 13-year old son with Down syndrome, Kipper, and his 11-year old daughter, Ethie. The father’s flashbacks during the war, told in the third person, alternate with the 1960s narrative told from young Ethie’s point of view.
The father’s dark secret that had been hidden from the family – a promise to a dying friend – complicates his life and is revealed to the family by the end of the story. We learn of the father’s love for and dependence on his wife, and his loyalty to a wartime pal, a complex secret that thwarts his ability to act effectively when threatened with the loss of his daughter to a relative’s care, and assigning his mentally challenged son to an institution.
Milner’s portrayal of meddling relatives, institutionalizing the disabled, alcoholism and prejudice against Japanese Canadians are believable. This is a story of overcoming tragedy and coping out of love for an ideal or for family. The writer’s accounts of incarceration and cruelty are balanced, showing moments of compassion and hope amidst an ugly truth.
There were elements of clichéd foreshadowing, such as at the end of Chapter Five: As he said a silent goodbye to Lucy, he tried to ignore the ominous sense of foreboding that filled the empty space inside him. And then twenty pages later, Watching the circle of flowers disappear beneath the foam of the ship’s wake did nothing to dispel his growing sense of foreboding.
Overall, the book is well researched and the suspense keeps the reader interested until the end.