The Heat of the Sun by David Rain

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The Heat of the Sun by David Rain

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: An ageing journalist feels it's time to tell the truth about Senator Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton - and he knows the truth - he's a life-long friend of his son, known to all as Trouble. It's a beautiful re-telling of a cruel century.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 283 Date: July 2012
Publisher: Atlantic Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857892034

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David Rain is far too young to be writing this exquisitely. That's all I'm going to say.

Oh, you need me to justify that comment?

Right, well - unusually for me - let's start with the author. Rain is an Australian, living in London, who has taught literature and writing at Queen's (Belfast), the University of Brighton, and Middlesex (London). Actually, I've no idea how old he is and he might rather resent me thinking of him as a young lad. It's just that his official author photo (which seems to get photo-chopped onto any number of backgrounds the more you wander around the web) makes him look like a sweet wee thing – a touch of darkness behind the eyes maybe, but generally an innocent, as yet unversed in the ways of the world. Clearly he isn't. And clearly that photo misleads, since he's been teaching since the 1990s after a stint at Adelaide University. Let's just say he's wearing life well.

So what about the book?

Woodley Sharpless is an orphan. Not the kind that ends up on the streets selling single cigarettes. The kind that ends up at Blaze public school (or I should say private school, since this is set in American and this is one area where their take on language makes more sense than ours). Blaze Academy is very exclusive.

It is also populated by bullies and power brokers. A particularly cruel series of events, reminiscent of any English public school experience ever captured in a novel, creates a vacancy in the dorm. Cue the arrival of Ben Pinkerton, known to all as Trouble – don't ask me why.

Pinkerton is glamour encapsulated. He arrives with a gramophone that blasts out Sophie Tucker. He is the senator's son. Some think him a preening sissy. The majority swarm around him in total admiration. All boys break the rules, but Trouble does it spectacularly, with flair and panache. He doesn't sneak out for a few illegal beers with close chums – he organises a mass escape and a fully-fledged bonfire party in the graveyard.

His arrival part-way through term though, is a bit odd.

His 'adoption' of the frail Sharpless, not just orphaned, but bookish and half-crippled, is not what might be expected. The relationship develops into a genuine friendship however and one which will last a lifetime. The more Sharpless gets to know Trouble, the closer he comes to understanding that nickname.

The scope of the book is vast, taking us from the early 1920s through to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with a prologue and an epilogue that take us 40 years beyond that. It is all told by one man: the now ageing Woodley Sharpless. It is a very personal memoir.

Rain is clever though in not trying to present a life-long friendship as one in which the protagonists live in each others' pockets the whole time. Their pathways cross and diverge. This is how it is with my oldest friends; this – generally – IS how it works for most people. He avoids the temptations of the block-stacking saga and instead gives us a life as a series of protracted vignettes:

Act One: A Boy Called Trouble – or what happened at school in the twenties

Act Two: Telemachus, Stay – or days and nights with Aunt Toolie in the Village – a beautiful portrait of the latter days of the jazz age.

Between the Acts: a story – the place is Nagasaki, a House on Higashi Hill

Act Three: After Tokugawa - 1937 and a failed writer sets out with a photo-journalist for the far east.

Act Four: The Gravity of Americans – the quote comes from a chapter heading in de Tocqueville's Democracy in America which reads in full On the gravity of Americans and why it does not prevent them from acting rashly. Gravity may have other implications in Rain's chapter as we head to Los Alamos and the ruin that would rain from the sky thereafter.

The structure and Act titles are Rain's – the hints at what they cover are mine. But make no assumptions. Sharpless and Pinkerton are not the only two characters whose paths spiral about each other.

The whole is a story about the universal search for love and for self, set at a time when there was less freedom to do either of those things, no matter how free the age might have felt for those wandering through it. It is littered with morality and its absence.

When I say that Rain is too young, maybe what I really mean is that he wasn't born long enough ago? There isn't so much an echo of Scott Fitzgerald in these pages as a gentle background refrain, that hauntingly lingers at the edges of every page. If he'd still been around in the 1980s, I can't help thinking this would be the novel he'd have written. I speak as a fan.

The book is dedicated to Antony, who asked 'What happened to that boy?'

Having made the comparison I must of course point you in the direction of FSF's masterpiece but you might also enjoy The Missing by Tim Gautreaux

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Luci said:

You’ve got me looking him up to see how old he is now, but I haven’t found out yet. He does look rather youthful.