Larry Benjamin's Reviews > The Value of Rain

The Value of Rain by Brandon Shire
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Jan 08, 12

Read from December 30, 2011 to January 08, 2012

The Value of Rain is a book like a glass of ice water to the face, to the heart. It’s a dark novel, an endless rainy night in a season of monsoons; when the sun comes out—and it does come out—it remains half-hidden in its own shadow much like the protagonist, Charles, himself.

The writing is as spare, unforgiving and mean as the story it tells. A torrent of horror and atrocity pours down with the vigor of acid rain. The extreme cruelty and apathy of the adults veers perilously close to caricature yet this very exaggeration serves to cast a spotlight on the harsh reality that is the central premise of this unforgettable book: we are failing our LGBT children; we are failing to give them a sense of self-worth, we are failing to love them.

At fourteen, after being caught in the arms of his first love, in aftermath of his first gay experience, Charles is committed, remanded to the first of two consecutive psychiatric institutions—institutions that are part warehouse, part torture chamber. Both institutions, more cemetery for the barely living than hospital, uniformly fail those in its custody. One youngman, Snow, cuts himself, the reason for his incarceration, yet he regularly finds razors and continues to cut himself, eventually slitting his own wrists. Another youngman, forced to eat his own shit, also succumbs to despair and engineers his own escape. That Charles himself survives at all is a miracle and a puzzle.

Over ten years we follow Charles’ trajectory to despair. Finally the release he deserves, the release we find ourselves hoping for, occurs and he moves out into the greater world. Yet, perhaps not surprisingly, even after even after he is freed, he remains imprisoned―in a carapace of hatred, his need for revenge; alone, unreachable, ignoring love, like glancing blows against the hard brilliant shell of his stilled heart.

The Value of Rain is a difficult book to forget. When you reach the end you will realize as Charles’ uncle Breece warns, “Now the hard part, letting go, is up to you.” And you’ll realize letting go of this story and its haunted cast of characters is not so easy.

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