A new novel by Charles Martin is an event. He’s a grand storyteller, one of the nest writing today. He tells stories, and his characters tell stories. It doesn’t matter if it’s broken children trying to survive, or broken adults trying to survive a plane crash in winter mountains or the pain of life, or a husband still trying to show a dying wife how much he loves her. Charles Martin tells stories of the human heart, the broken human heart ultimately touched by grace.
Send Down the Rain, Martin’s latest published work, is a grand story, and then some. Joseph Burns is 62, a Vietnam veteran. He went to Vietnam as a teen, did two tours, and was involved in special operations all over Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. He doesn’t have to talk about those special ops; he still has nightmares in his sleep.
Joseph lives in a cabin with his dog Roscoe in the mountains of North Carolina. He hears a child’s scream and goes to investigate. A woman and her two children, all illegal immigrants, are trying to escape a Mexican drug lord, right there in North Carolina. Joseph tells them to wait in his cabin, while he leaves for a while. He comes back with the drug lord’s knife. The police later find his body tied in the back of a pickup truck.
He helps the woman find her brother in Florida, not far from where he and his brother Bobby grew up at Cape San Blas, a coastal peninsular in the Panhandle. He and his brother don’t see each other; they occasionally talk. Bobby is a U.S. Senator, a decorated war hero, living the stereotype of the powerful Southern U.S. Senator with connections all over Washington D.C. and the U.S. military. Someone else lives at Cape San Blas – Allie, the girl next door, the one Joseph loves and the one who loved Joseph.
When Joseph came home from his first tour, he arrived just in time to see Allie and Bobby getting married. He considered killing his brother; instead, he returned for a second tour.
Bobby and Allie have been long divorced, and Allie is remarried to a truckdriver, man who has just incinerated himself in a tractor-trailer explosion right at Cape San Blas.
Joseph is still in love with Allie. First loves aren’t easily cast aside, at least for Joseph. But there are complications, a lot of complications. And Joseph Burns is going to confront the demons, real and imagined, pursuing him.
Charles Martin doesn’t write bad stories, or even mediocre ones. He writes about recognizable people, people we know or think we know. Send Down the Rain is filled with these recognizable people, broken and searching for grace, and possibly finding redemption.
Top photograph: The shoreline at Cape San Blas, Florida.