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The Time It Never Rained

4.21  ·  Rating Details ·  1,037 Ratings  ·  129 Reviews
To the ranchers and farmers of 1950s Texas, man's biggest enemy is one he can't control. With their entire livelihood pegged on the chance of a wet year or a dry year, drought has the ability to crush their whole enterprise, to determine who stands and who falls, and to take food out of the mouths of the workers and their families. To Charlie Flagg, an honest, decent, and ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published May 15th 1999 by Forge Books (first published 1973)
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Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryTrue Grit by Charles PortisBlood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthyAll the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthyNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Best Westerns
811 books — 1,004 voters
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryThe Time It Never Rained by Elmer KeltonThe Road by Cormac McCarthyMolly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? by Molly IvinsDead Man's Walk by Larry McMurtry
Texas Authors
495 books — 174 voters

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Elmer Kelton wrote in the prologue of The Time It Never Rained:

"Men grumbled, but you learned to live with the dry spells if you stayed in West Texas; there were more dry spells than wet ones. No one expected another drought like that of ’33. And the really big dries like 1918 came once in a lifetime.

“'Why worry?' They said. 'It would rain this fall. It always had.' "

“But it didn’t. And many a boy would become a man before the land was green again.”

The novel is set in West Texas during the 50’s
Book Riot Community
I have this sweet situation going on where my partner has spent the last year reading only books I’ve recommended to him. As most book nerds can attest to, living with someone who takes every book suggestion you give them is a dream come true! So when he finally asked me to read something he loved I knew I owed it to him, but I’ll be damned if I wanted to do it. It took me a bit to get into it but once I did I was blown away by how touching and funny and lovely it was. Westerns aren’t typically ...more
David Cox
Jul 24, 2007 David Cox rated it it was amazing
The greatest American novel no one outside of Texas ever heard of.
Joseph Dorris
Mar 12, 2012 Joseph Dorris rated it it was amazing
An incredibly sobering book. I could never live up to the example of Charlie Flagg, yet his character should give us all something to think about. I think this may have been Kelton's finest writing. He captures in a few words some incredibly deep struggles and realities. He doesn't force the politics of the time (and more overwhelmingly of today) on the reader, but shows the reader through stark reality the unintended consequences of a government's misguided good intentions. It helped me underst ...more
Sep 08, 2011 Steven rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book more than all those Louis L'Amour books, including the one I had gone to the Western section to buy when I came out with this one. I don't know if it's Kelton or not, but this was a great book. Great characters, memorable setting and problems. I thought it was well-developed for what is often a formulaic genre.

I enjoyed the main character, particularly his stubborn refusal to buy into a government aid program. His insistence seems to have died with him somewhere decades ago.
Sep 05, 2012 Chrisl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spur, hf-usa, texas, 1970s
It's looking like Central and Eastern Oregon's ranchers should be reading Kelton's potent look at long term drought. The regional deer seem to be spending more and more browsing time on the irrigated acres like mine. Statewide, salmon and less economically important fish are dying in the too warm rivers.


Charlie Flagg won't accept government allotments for feed for his dying cattle and sheep; he'd rather lose land and switch to goats (they go anywhere and don't hardly need nothing to
Wallace Kaufman
Apr 03, 2010 Wallace Kaufman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Elmer Kelton is too often pigeon holed as a Western writer, cowboy writer, Texas regional writer. This book should rank with Faulkner's work as the local made universal. It is one of the very best works of fiction from which a reader can gain a valuable and usable insight into the dynamics of humankind and the natural environment. (Entirely unlike the Utopian, romantic, and idealistic stuff of so much environmental writing.) Great story, great insight.
Jun 03, 2012 Tim rated it it was amazing
If you want to understand the mentality of long time Texans, especially those of a previous generation and those living west of Ft. Worth, this is a remarkable book about a man of character, determination, and a love for the land. I have read this five or six times and have given it to many people. Kelton is a wonderful writer and this story of a Texas rancher during the drought of the 1950s is among his best.
Chris G Derrick
Jan 08, 2015 Chris G Derrick rated it really liked it
Shelves: western
I read this book at the end of last year, and finished it in only a few days.
It was easy to imagine what living through such a dire situation would be like from Elmer Kelton's great descriptive use of words.
He also managed to create characters that you cared about. Which, for me, is also important in the enjoyment of a good novel.
It's a book that would be good to read again after a while.
All in all a great read.
Thoroughly recommended.
Samuel Snoek-Brown
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 05, 2014 Diana rated it liked it
Found this book very discouraging to read. It was written (in 1973) about Texas in the 1950's.
No matter when it was written, the story in agriculture today is still the same. Much of the U.S. is facing a years long draught. People are having to sell their ranches and farms.
Things that are the same are: prices for products that do not keep pace with what the rancher or farmer must buy to keep in business. Going to the bank to borrow money to stay in business is still a difficult task that every
Sep 27, 2009 Mike rated it it was amazing
The setting is a 7 year drought on a West Texas ranch in the 1950's. Kelton grew up on a West Texas ranch in the 20's and 30's and brings the culture and country vividly to life. The main character, Charlie Flagg, is, of course, a rancher of the old libertarian strain and is modeled on Kelton's father. He is a man of principles who won't accept government aid for the drought and, as it turns out, it didn't make any difference anyway. This book was written in 1973 and is sympathetic to illegal al ...more
Adam Bruns
Oct 21, 2013 Adam Bruns rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ever read or watched Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing"? The funny misnomer of the title for the Shakespearean comedy was that there was a great deal happening in that play. To be blunt, I will from now on remember this Kelton novel as "The Time That Nothing Really Happened. Seriously." I had a hard time engaging this novel in the first 15 pages, but since this was a book to be read for a grad school course, I chugged on. The first 200 pages were incredibly boring. Anything interestin ...more
Sep 10, 2011 Dave rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I find myself annoyed at Elmer Kelton. This is well written, and covers the hardships of West Texas ranching well. Yet the protagonist Charlie Flagg gets into trouble by a six year plus drought, and never gets out. Life my be not be a bowl of cherries, but this is all pitts. When it does start to rain again, the books ends with just one more tragic event that removes practically all hope for the character. Several sub-plots are left unresolved. I wanted to like this book, but Kelton never let hi ...more
Aug 11, 2010 Kerry rated it it was amazing
listening to this one. I'm not a western fan but this is a great story. am on 4 th cd of 11
Finish and must say I will go on to read more of Kelton. This was a great listen with George Guidall who I just love to listen to. It was a tragic tail but not one that made you want to cry more one that made you want to think and to relish how we got to be a great nation. I would recommend the audio book very highly. it was hard to put down
Tate Shannon
Sep 04, 2014 Tate Shannon rated it really liked it
Possibly one of the best books I've ever read. I knew Mr. Kelton before he died and he told me this is one of his favorite books. I can't believe it took me this long before I read it.
I could not give this book a higher recommendation. It perfectly embodies the life and spirit of the West Texas rancher.
Eva M.
Jul 31, 2014 Eva M. rated it it was amazing
Thanks to a recommendation I FINALLY read this wonderful, sad, memorable tale of West Texas rancher life. Not what I expected, and much more than I could have hoped for. Great characters, a narrative that moves well, and the environmental tragedy that continues.
Feb 03, 2017 Linda rated it really liked it
The story started a bit slow, but that should be expected since it is a story about drought ridden West Tx in the 1950's. I enjoyed the book very much.
Karleen Koen
Very spare, very well done, very West Texas
Steven Law
Aug 08, 2012 Steven Law rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
One of the best novels I have ever read. An American classic.
Aug 21, 2016 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding read!

If you seek the soul of the Western border state ranchers and dry farmers, you will find it very difficult to put this book down.
Charlie is a crabby farmer that don't like the government.
Feb 27, 2012 Monty rated it really liked it
Kelton is one of our best Western writers. He is perhaps better known for his Texas Rangers series, which traces the history of Texas, from the early Republic to the 1880's. Kelton grew up on a ranch in West Texas, and the present work is probably based on many of his childhood experiences in the 1950's and 60's
The main topic of the present work concerns the six-year "drouth" that affected Texas in the 1950's, with lasting consequences for the ranchers, the towns, and the way of life that had e
May 14, 2008 Melissa rated it it was amazing
Would it be enough to just tell you to go read this book right now?
In simplest terms, it's the story of a West Texas rancher during the horrendous 1950s drought. Kelton weaves the stories of a stubborn man, a dying town, cattle and sheep and goats, immigration, the economy, governmental meddling, relationships, small town life, and trying to stay alive into one heck of a novel. You can feel the heat and the dust, and your heart aches as the ranch slips away.
This is one of those books that is al
Shawnee Bowlin
Nov 07, 2013 Shawnee Bowlin rated it really liked it
Elmer Kelton touched on a subject that almost everyone faces sometime in their lives: hardships. Sometimes it seems like no matter what a person tries to do right, everything works against them. In this case, Charlie's devil was nature, a formidable, unforgiving, and unpredictable force. Farmers and ranchers are at its mercy year-round. But there are many other professions that depend on nature for success, and that's one reason "The Time It Never Rained" appealed to me. As a western, the story ...more
Nov 13, 2010 Tressa added it
Elmer Kelton’s The Time it Never Rained

Kelton paints a portrait of the internal struggle to maintain autonomy amid the external challenges of the arid west.

After The Time it Never Rained:

Jeanette Walls’ Half-Broke Horses

The tale of a woman who faces life’s challenges head-on, whether she’s riding her pony solo for several days to her first job or running hootch to support her family during the Great Depression.

Gin Phillips’ The Well and the Mine

This award-winning debut novel takes us from the
Jan 08, 2010 Lostinanovel rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 24, 2013 Deborah rated it it was amazing
Prescient book about droughts in West Texas, and the indomitable spirit of those who live on the land.

Time was when an inch of rain would have brought fresh life, a greening to the land. But there had been grass then, a spongy turf to soak up and hold the moisture, and live roots to draw sustenance from it. Now the bare ground had nothing to soften the impact of rain, to catch and drink up the water.

Charlie: “Damn lambs are so little they wouldn’t make a box lunch for a bobcat,” he complained.
Jul 02, 2008 Meagan rated it liked it
Shelves: western
This is a slow, deliberate book that really lets you get to know its main character, Charlie Flagg. I grew up in the West, and I've met people, both men and women, like Charlie Flagg. They can be infuriating to deal with, but you can't help but respect them. They're stubborn and independent, sometimes they lack the forward thinking that I prize, but they are unfailingly reliable, honest, and hard-working. Charlie Flagg is all these things, and The Time It Never Rained follows him and his Texas r ...more
Aug 06, 2014 Mary rated it it was amazing
This book has been on my to-read list for a long time, I don't know why I never got around to reading it before now. I grew up in West Texas, in the San Angelo area that is the setting of this book. Although I was born after the drought ended, my parents and other relatives lived through it. They were (and still are for the most part) farmers and ranchers. So for me, the setting and characters of The Time It Never Rained are very familiar. In spite of or maybe because of that familiarity, I real ...more
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Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Other Men’s Horses, Texas Standoff and Hard Trail to Follow. He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. His first novel, Hot Iron, was published in 1956. Among his awards have been seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and ...more
More about Elmer Kelton...

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“A bad habit or two is good for a man or a beast. Did you ever know a man who didn't have any bad habits? I have, and I always hated the son of a bitch." -- Charlie Flagg” 11 likes
“I'll be riding rough horses when you are salted away in a box.” 9 likes
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