Maizee Hurd is taken in by relatives when she is ten, after finding her mother dead of a “brain bleed.” Stolidly, Maizee declares, “I did not cry…crying upset folks, and I’d promised on Momma’s Bible to never be a bother to anyone.” It is a promise she keeps to the day of her death.
Living in Christian Bend in the Tennessee hills with her aunt Leela-Ma, Maizee begins to have nightmares and hear voices. She meets Zebulon as a child and they fall in love; their special bond is all that Maizee needs to be happy, at first. But when she becomes pregnant, she begins to have visions of a baby with no eyes. Even Zeb comes to believe she is “bewitched.” Later, her son Rain comes down with scarlet fever and loses his hearing. Zebulon goes off to war after Pearl Harbor and never returns.
Mother of Rain is written from various perspectives, primarily that of Maizee and her aunt, allowing the reader to see Maizee’s slow decline after she learns of Zeb’s death. Her once-neat house is a mess and she has cut up old treasured photos. Before she takes her own life, Maizee declares, “Dear Lord, I’ll never git rid of the voices. They’d yapped all day and night since Zeb went missing…they moved right in with me and got…loud, loud, loud.” Call it madness or demonic possession, it seems that Maizee never really recovered from the death of her mother, and sadly, her child brings her no comfort, though he will be a blessing to those left behind.
Author Zacharias is from Appalachia and has written about that region previously in a journalistic vein (Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?). Christian Bend is a real place, and her aunt was a storyteller there. One of the characters in Mother of Rain, Burdy Luttrell, is a Melungeon, a mysterious and often-despised group of dark-haired folk who inhabit that region of Tennessee, said to be descendants of Spanish or Portuguese soldiers. Zacharias has drawn together many elements of folk tradition in this well-crafted novel, including the second sight (or plain perspicacity) of Burdy, who correctly identifies that Maizee is slipping off the deep end one day when the girl comes to her house saying she can’t get into her kitchen to get any food because her husband Zeb is sitting there at the table, reading a book. Burdy opines, “The reason why Maizee was such a restless soul was because she lived in fear of displeasing voices only she could hear.”
Composed in a mild mountain patois peppered with a few purposely-misspelled words (such as “git”) and archaic phrases (“I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him for over a year, and now he comes trodding up the road pretty-as-you-please") that add resonance to the setting, Mother of Rain is the somber, evocative tale of a deranged young woman whose life can only end sorrowfully.