Father of the Rain by Lily King is a story of divorce, cruelty, alcoholism, self-preservation, and redemption.
Part I is the agonizing story of 11 year-old Daley during her parent’s divorce. Her mother swears Daley to secrecy as she begins preparations to leave her wealthy WASP husband, Gardiner. Daley is tormented by the guilt of leaving her father at the beginning of the summer and is overcome with fear and sadness by what she finds when she and her mother return to town at the end of the summer. Daley becomes a stranger in Gardiner’s home and witness to his functional, but explosive alcoholism. King is masterful as she creates Daley’s world of both privilege and complete chaos. Gardiner is incredibly cruel and careless in the way only a wealthy alcoholic can be. Page after page he manipulations Daley’s heart and mind in ways that will leave readers shaking with rage and overwhelmed with sadness for a young girl who can’t understand what happened to her family over the course of one summer.
Part II chronicles Daley’s successful life, free from her father’s alcoholism and dysfunction. At the pinnacle of young professional success, Gardiner manages to pull her back with the promise of reconciliation and the restoration of their pre-divorce bond. I risk giving too much away by summarizing the plot in Part II closely. King creates such an atmosphere of oppression and hope that the reader is sure to literally yell at Daley through the pages as she makes herself vulnerable to a continually cruel and unstable Gardiner. I can only imagine that the child of an alcoholic could understand how far down the path to hell they are willing to travel in order create a non-alcoholic, loving version of their parent.
Part III is essentially the aftermath of the situation Gardiner created which drew Daley back home. King’s incredibly nuanced adult Daley is a revelation – stronger at the broken places, but still capable of responding to the needs of her father even if it could leave her broken again. The question asked in Part III is whether she can stay safe and healthy while he is so sick.
Lily King has created an incredibly evocative novel in Father of the Rain. It literally evoked a veritable avalanche of emotions from me as I read it – sadness, anger, frustration, happiness, profound relief, and contempt. The novel is both a testament to how low people can sink as a result of alcohol abuse, the degree to which they are able to lie to themselves, and the innate goodness and strength that all humans possess, regardless of economic advantages.
Father of the Rain would be an excellent choice for a book club. The themes of familial obligation, fidelity, parental responsibility, alcoholism, and abuse run throughout the book. Clearly, Oprah agrees with me, as the novel was included in her 2010 list of Summer Reads and a Reader's Guide was created.