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The Rainy Season
James P. Blaylock
Ace Books, 356 pages

The Rainy Season
James P. Blaylock
Living in Orange California with his wife, Viki, and children, James Blaylock teaches creative writing at Chapman University. He was born in 1950 in Long Beach and he studied English at California State University (Fullerton) where he received an MA in 1974.

James P. Blaylock Tribute Site
Blaylock Bibliography
SF Site Review: Winter Tides
SF Site Review: Night Relics
SF Site Review: All the Bells on Earth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rodger Turner

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Betsy is 9 years old. She's a big fan of Winnie the Pooh. In her backpack, she carries Pooh stuffed animals wherever she goes. And Betsy is adrift in a pool of strangers. Strangers who think they know what's best for her.

Marianne, her mom, has died in Austin, Texas, from a lethal mixture of anti-depressants which may not have been self-administered. Betsy is numb. Phil Ainsworth, her uncle and Marianne's twin brother, has been appointed guardian according to her second will. Betsy kinda likes him, in an offbeat way. In her mom's first will, she was to be taken care of by Hannah Darwin, the quintessential neighbour lady who babysat, fed and cared for her during the latter stages of her mother's life. Betsy thinks she is sneaky. But Betsy will have to move to Phil's rural home in southern California. There, he lives on an old farm and works as a nature photographer. Phil is being badgered by Elizabeth Kelly, an antique picker, who is hoping for the big score. It'll come, if she can find a piece of "memory glass." She thinks Betsy is the key. But Betsy doesn't trust her.

The "glass" holds the life experiences of Hale Appleton's daughter who died as a child back in 1884, after her father buried her alive. (He gives Betsy the willies.) But one day, Jen appears out of a well on Phil's property at about the same time as Betsy is hiding a piece of "memory glass" her mother had given her in the trunk of a tree outside her bedroom window. Betsy finds Jen a bit lost and distracted. Waiting for Jen is Colin, the love of her life and her betrothed. He had come out of the well many years before, after he drowned in 1884. But Colin has a secret -- he had betrayed Jen by being with her best friend, May, who gave birth to his child. Stirring up this mix is Mrs Darwin who decides she should be Betsy's guardian after all.

James P. Blaylock brings us another of his modern gothic tales. He captures the creepy elegance of place, not in the setting of castles and moors but rather in a neo-Victorian farmhouse and an avocado ranch. He has the archetype night-walker in the form a failed priest rather than sage groundskeeper. You'll find the rains and fog clouding the landscape but it is set against today's backdrop of strip malls and fast food outlets. And you want ghosts? Well, they are there, but solid, not those puny numbers we've grown up with from black & white TV. The Rainy Season provides us with a mixture of the mundane and the supernatural, woven together with a smart degree of wit and acuity.

Each of his characters appears so natural and unassuming, I figure I see them on the street everyday. It is only through the writer's patience and his willingness to gift me with his storytelling skill that I was able to realize the true nature of their capriciousness to inflict their desires on others. Some of it is done in an unwitting fashion, such as Phil's fumbling as a new parent. And some of it is due to their craven nature -- Elizabeth's willful attempt to befriend Betsy to find her big score. Then there is Hannah Darwin's malicious kidnapping of Betsy or Elizabeth's ransacking of Appleton's living space or Appleton's drive to sacrifice anybody or anything to recover his daughter's memories. These are very scary people and they could live down the block from you.

In past novels, James P. Blaylock has shown us the sheer ickyness of people's souls (Winter Tides), the gentle healing powers of love and trust (Night Relics) and the provocative effect of man's greed for success (All the Bells on Earth). Now, in The Rainy Season, he transcends all the pettiness of our inhumanity to give us a fresh tale of hope and transcendence. Betsy may be adrift in a pool of strangers but she knows that she'll be safe.

Copyright © 1999 by Rodger Turner

Rodger has read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in forty years. He can only shake his head and say, "So many books, so little time."


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