A groundbreaking, deeply affecting work of environmental literary suspense for fans of Cloud Atlas, The Overstory, and Station Eleven.
The northern mining town of River Meadows is one of three hotspots in the world producing ghost ore, a new source of energy worth twenty-eight times its weight in gold. It's also linked with slippages of time and space that gradually render the area uninhabitable. After the town is evacuated, the whole region is cordoned off, the new no-go zone wryly nicknamed "the Park."
Three intertwined stories flow from the disaster of River Meadows. Alex Hewitt and his sister, Amery, were among the first to be shipped out of the contaminated town. Now an accomplished game designer, Alex has moved on, but his sister has not, making increasingly dangerous break-ins to save animals trapped in the toxic wasteland. When at last she fails to return from a trip inside the fence, Alex flies to River Meadows to search for her, enlisting her friend, Michio Amano, a mathematician who needs to transcend the known laws of physics if he and Alex are to succeed.
Claire Foley ran away from River Meadows as a teenager and now traffics in endangered wildlife. As Alex and Michio search for Amery, Claire arrives in an island nation under threat of environmental catastrophe to retrieve her greatest prize yet, only to find herself facing a life-altering choice.
And, finally, in a future as distant as myth, a flock of birds sets out on a dangerous journey to prevent the extinction of their ancient enemy, humanity. The account they hand down is an Epic of Gilgamesh for our times, illuminating the wisdom of nature and our flawed stewardship of the planet.
As sweeping in scope as a world of its own, The Book of Rain is a novel of epic reach, beautifully multi-layered, haunting and profound.
About the author
Thomas Wharton was born in Grande Prairie, Alberta, an agriculture and oil city located near the BC border. His father, a utilities manager, was transferred to Jasper when Wharton was a teen. The years Wharton spent exploring the mountains and glaciers around Jasper have had a lasting impact on his literary output; references to the Rocky Mountains weave in and out of the books he has written, most notably Icefields (NeWest Press, 1995) and The Logogryph. A life-long love of maps, history, art, and poetry equally informs his work. His latest adult novel is Every Blade of Grass. He is also the author of a fantasy trilogy, The Perilous Realm for younger readers. The Shadow of Malabron, The Fathomless Fire, and The Tree Story are available from Doubleda Canada.
- Short-listed, Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
Excerpt: The Book of Rain (by (author) Thomas Wharton)
He wakes from an Ativan-induced doze to the roar of the plane. The last of the daylight fading on the edge of the world. The window shows him dark stretches of forest, parted now and then by the pale slash of a road, a few lonely yard lights already winking on in the gloom. They must be getting close.
Below him is somewhere he’d lived once. It doesn’t feel that way. His adult life has taken place far from here and he’d had no plans to ever return.
Then came the call from his mother, about Amery.
I told her it wasn’t her job to make things right, she’d said over the phone.
He tried to be reassuring. Or maybe he just didn’t want to be bothered.
I’m sure she’s fine, Mom. She probably got busy and just forgot to check in.
No. She never forgets, Alex. We talk every weekend. I insisted and she never misses it. Even if she won’t tell me what she’s doing, or how she’s doing, she always calls. You’re sure you haven’t heard from her?
Maybe she didn’t pay her phone bill. We both know she has no money.
I’m not jumping to conclusions. Something’s happened to your sister.
The seatbelt sign comes on. The pilot announces they’ll be landing in Pine Ridge in ten minutes. The older woman sitting next to Alex puts away her word puzzle book and clasps her hands together in her lap, her thumbs turning over and over each other like some kind of self-propelled mechanism. They haven’t spoken the entire flight and it occurs to him they haven’t once made eye contact. Or rather, he’s avoided making eye contact. He’s gotten very good at that the last few years, retreating from humanity to concentrate on his work. The pandemic deepened that inclination into something more like a monastic habit, and even now, as restrictions lift and the world emerges warily into whatever comes after, he has to make an effort to remind himself there’s a life outside of his own head.
What had he been dreaming about just now? Sometimes when he dreams he becomes aware that he’s dreaming, but this was an ordinary dream, the kind you take to be real, no matter how absurd or impossible its events, until you wake up. He’d been a boy again, out with his father in a boat on a calm lake fringed with a lacy morning mist, the floats of their submerged lures scarcely moving on the water’s glassy surface. They’d forgotten to bring the lunch Mom packed for them and they joked about being forced to eat whatever they managed to catch, right there in the boat.
What if it’s a rubber boot? he asked his father.
We’ll have a lot of chewing to do, said the Ben Hewitt of his dream, far more sage and unflappable than he’d ever been in life.
He looked up then to see the mist thinning. They’d been inside a cloud, he realized in wonder, and now its infinitesimal droplets were dissolving back into invisible vapour. Any moment now these hazy, drifting walls were going to lift like a curtain and all would be revealed. They would see and know where they were.
His voice trembling with excitement, he gripped his father’s arm.
You need to watch this, Dad.
Ben Hewitt’s eyes stayed fixed on the water, as if he hadn’t heard, and Alex had no choice but to look where his father was looking. He glimpsed them then, out of reach in the green, transparent depths. They were of many shapes, hues, and kinds. They moved in the currents of their own unfathomable dreams, dreams that had never imagined an impossible creature like him.
You have to keep quiet, his father said, if you want them to bite.
As the plane descends Alex packs away the notebook, pen, and rubber-banded deck of index cards he’d brought along to distract himself during the flight. It hadn’t worked. The Almanack of Sand is the most complicated game he’s worked on yet, a world in itself with its own laws, customs, history. Now it seems childishly simple compared to what he’s returning to— the life of his sister.
He’ll check into his hotel and call this Michio Amano, the friend of Amery his mother told him about. He may need to rent a car too, to drive up the highway to River Meadows, or what’s left of it. That’s where Amery has been spending most of her time, he knows. In the ruins of the place they once lived, now a restricted area. For a long time she denied it, but their mother eventually got the truth from her—that she goes behind the wire. Her one-woman crusade to save the animals.
The runway lights appear, flashing past the window, faster and faster. Alex grips the armrests, tensing into that reckoning with reality that occurs during every landing, when you find yourself reduced to a hurtling object in an equation involving time, space, mass, and gravity. Your hopes and plans no factor at all in what’s happening.
He passes through the moment, or it passes through him. The plane rattles and shudders down to a human velocity. They’ve arrived.
The strangest thing about his life, he realizes, is that he can put his finger on the exact point where it diverged from its intended path. This remote part of the world was never supposed to have become their home. His family had only been passing through on their way to somewhere else. Then reality broke one of its own rules.
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2023 ATWOOD GIBSON WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE
"Thomas Wharton's The Book of Rain is a whole living world in itself. It is a mystery in three linked narratives, it is climate fiction, and it is a kind of mythology, creating a strange, gorgeous, utterly haunting work. Wharton's writing is clear and elegant, yet the story continually startles readers with the turns it takes as its characters seek what has been lost. He accomplishes this with precision and grace. The Book of Rain shimmers with imagination, depth and optimism." — 2023 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize jury citation
"Thomas Wharton's novel has a prismatic effect: a reader can see rainbow refractions of Strugatsky, Joan Lindsay, Jeff Vandermeer, even Lovecraft—but The Book of Rain is unique enough to exist beyond comparison. A book of rich characterizations and bold ideas, the kind of highwire act many writers shy away from. The fact that Wharton pulls it off is a kind of miracle, one I'm glad I had an opportunity to experience." —Craig Davidson, author of The Saturday Night Ghost Club and Rust and Bone
"It's difficult to describe just how audaciously imaginative The Book of Rain is. Thomas Wharton has crafted a world parallel to this one yet not, an epic of consuming scope. This is more than climate fiction for climate fiction’s sake: with beautiful literary control, Wharton ventures into the wilds, and in doing so presents a stunning excavation of how fragile, fleeting and many-faced it is to be human. I wish more books surprised me as much as this one did." —Omar El Akkad, author of the Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning What Strange Paradise
"The Book of Rain ripples through reality, giving us a new vocabulary for the strange and dangerous world we find ourselves in. A subtle and haunting journey through the intertwined lives of three characters at the end of the world, Wharton's unflinching eye and soaring imagination turn a perilous journey wondrous." —Eden Robinson, author of The Trickster Trilogy
"The Book of Rain isn't so much a book as it is an ecosystem—intricate and delicate, with storylines that cross and converge and seem as rooted in place—and every bit as alive—as the animals and plants that course through these pages. And just like an ecosystem, the reader comes away from it astonished and fulfilled. Look on these pages and revel in wonder." —Amanda Leduc, author of The Centaur’s Wife
"Complex, sprawling. . . . The novel plays with form and structure; it shifts into histories and asides that point toward deeper truths. . . . A story grounded in a very real and tangible idea: Human beings are not listening to the world—they are perhaps not even suited to it—and, as they try to bend it to their will, they will inevitably bring it all to ruin. . . . The best parts of The Book of Rain revolve around the gravity of our most elemental stories, those narratives set down 'like tracks in snow' to show where we've gone, where we should never have been, and how light or heavy the marks are that we’ve trod into the world on the way to this tenuous and perilous moment." —Quill and Quire
"Wharton's great strength as a writer lies in collecting all of these disparate pieces without making his story incoherent or even too-coherent. . . . He doesn’t fall into the trap so many writers with similar themes do, and always keeps the emotional lives of his characters . . . as the focus." —Winnipeg Free Press
"Marvellous. . . . The Book of Rain is an essential text for thinking about extinction and environmental catastrophe." —Literary Review of Canada