Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Tough and Tender New Novel Has Elements for Every Reader

  • Randall Murphree AgapePress
  • 2005 25 Aug
Tough and Tender New Novel Has Elements for Every Reader

Title:  "Wrapped in Rain"
Author:  Charles Martin
Publisher:  WestBow

Charles Martin is among the fine new voices on the Christian fiction scene. His first title, "The Dead Don't Dance," was a 2005 Christy Award finalist. Hallmark Hall of Fame bought movie and TV rights less than a month after its release. Obviously, the man's got what it takes.

Martin's new "Wrapped in Rain:  A Novel of Coming Home" (WestBow, 2005) would be a good rainy day read, but don't wait. It may not rain for awhile. I warn you up front that, once you start, you'll finish before the next rainstorm darkens the skies at Waverly Hall, the family home in Martin's mythical Clopton, Alabama, setting for the book.

Martin analyzes his arrival in Christian fiction with humor and candor. He and his wife Christy sent out about a hundred queries for his first novel.

"I'd heard that F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise" was rejected 129 times," he said. "I bought that book and leaned it up against my computer terminal with a little sticky note that said '129.' I told myself, 'If I get to 129, I'll go back into the insurance business.' When I got to 86 rejections, I quit counting. After about eight or nine months of getting rejections I met [best-selling Christian novelist] Davis Bunn."

Martin's grandfather persuaded Bunn to take a look at his manuscript. Bunn became an instant fan, and Martin soon had an agent and a publisher.

"Wrapped in Rain" protagonist Tucker Rain has traversed the globe as a world-renowned photographer. He left behind in Clopton the monstrous pseudo-Old South plantation home his reprobate father built to exalt himself and flaunt his wealth.

From the time they are toddlers, Tuck and his brother Matthew (Mutt),
are pretty much estranged from their abusive father who makes his millions in business ventures in Atlanta. Their lifeline is Miss Ella Rain, an aging live-in nanny whose love nurtures them, whose strength sustains them and whose name they take as their own.

As a world traveler, Tuck has no choice but to return home when Mutt disappears from the mental institution where Tuck had left him long ago. The ensuing story lifts the veil from the boys' traumatic childhood and tracks their journey as adults who can't leave the trauma behind. The novel is deep and moving as it deals with the themes of forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation.

Martin's characters are real – flawed, weak, flaky, yet sometimes strong and lucid. It's hard not to pick up the phone to call them. You want to check on them because you recognize them – they're your brothers or cousins or best friends from high school.

"All of my characters in every story I ever write are certainly a composite of people I know, have met or can dream up," said Martin.

"Wrapped in Rain" is of a literary quality that distinguishes it from formulaic patterns – suspense, legal thriller, romance, western, etc. Don't get me wrong – all of those genres have their own geniuses producing top-level stories. But Martin's work, so far at least, sets itself apart by depending as much on strong characters as on plot.

Not only does Tuck decide to take Mutt home to Waverly for awhile. He also crosses paths with an old girlfriend who, with her young son, is running from an abusive husband. (Now, guess what subplot is brewing in this relationship!)

Martin paints poignant word pictures, and reaches his greatest depth with simple, realistic dialogue. When Tuck finally locates Mutt hiding out in the swamp:

His face looked swollen with mosquito bites, as did his clean hands. Mutt didn't say a word. It was the worst I had ever seen him. It was the worst I had ever seen anyone. He was a breathing shell.

"Hey, buddy," I whispered. His eyes never flinched. "What're you thinking about?"

A few minutes passed, and he looked out over the swamp. In a hoarse, almost silent whisper, he said, "Boxing up the sunshine, riding a cloud, raking the rain."

He extended his hand and waved it across the landscape.

"Is there room on that cloud for two?"

He thought for a moment ... and nodded.

"Slide over," I whispered.

We sat for an hour in the dark without saying another word. Without warning, Mutt looked at me and said, "You remember when Miss Ella used to read to us out of her Bible?"

Enough said. About Martin's genius, anyway. The author has strong feelings about the potential of fiction to communicate truth, but he would like to see the line that separates "Christian" and "secular" fade away.

"I really don't care what people label me, as long as I get to write stories," he said. "I don't sit down with an agenda. I'm really just trying to write a story."

He lists Flannery O'Connor, Mark Twain and John Grisham among his favorite writers. "I think [Grisham's] 'The Testament' is one of the best Christian novels I've ever read," he said.

Charles and Christy Martin live with Charlie, John T. and Rives – their three young sons – in Jacksonville, Florida, working in the yard, going fishing, coaching and playing T-ball. At night, the boys pray for a bigger boat and for Daddy's books.

Aha! So there's the key to Martin's gift. Keep praying, boys.

© 2005 AgapePress.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.