Maritta Wolff first blazed into the publishing world in 1941, at the age of twenty-two, with what Sinclair Lewis called "the most important novel of the year," Whistle Stop. Five more vibrant bestsellers followed over the next two decades, but her seventh novel was kept secretly hidden -- in her refrigerator -- for the last thirty years of her life. Now, to the great fortune of readers everywhere, Sudden Rain has come out of the fridge, but it is still gloriously frozen in time, and that is part of its beauty. Set in the fall of 1972, it perfectly captures, with expansive emotion and keen observation, the domestic trends of the late '60s and early '70s, doing for the Vietnam-era middle-class what Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road did for 1950s suburbia.
Sudden Rain is a compelling drama and cinematic read that offers great insight into the nature of marriage -- both then and now. The story centers around middle-class couples of three different generations and the ways in which their relationships and home lives are affected by the trends (specifically the rise in divorce and feminism) of the time. In the suburbs around Los Angeles, traditional housewives in their thirties and forties are starting to ask whether they are satisfied by their everyday lives. Meanwhile, at least one young woman in her early twenties feels paralyzed by her options. Tom and Nedith have been married for thirty years, but their union is rooted firmly in the mores of the 1950s: he works hard as an engineer; she stays home; neither is happy. Meanwhile, their son, Pete, has recently split from his wife, Killian, after less than a year of marriage. Their neighbor Cynny sees herself as reasonably happy in her marriage to Jim -- until she has an eye-opening conversation with one of her girlfriends, and begins to stray. Cynny's friend Nancy -- who o looking for fulfillment but stumbles into something so unexpected, it may make everyone in the community reconsider the choices they've made. The novel all takes place in one stormy L.A. weekend, as a literal fog of unrest blows into town and alters these marriages forever.
It's a novel that serves as an unusually revealing mirror of its times. All of Wolff's books were praised for her effortless grasp of human nature and her stunning ear for dialogue -- the ways in which people talk to themselves and to each other -- and this book is no different: it offers a pitch-perfect rendition of the speech and social interactions of three different generations coexisting in 1972. As a vivid distillation of its time and place, Wolff's Sudden Rain is a spellbinding achievement and an exciting discovery.
Read an Excerpt
Pete and Killian were divorced on a Thursday afternoon early in November. It was an unremarkable enough day on the face of it. The freeways, the vital circulatory system that made it all possible, were clear and streaming throughout the urban sprawl. The beaches were overcast, with sunshine in the mountains and upper deserts. The temperature registered seventy-seven degrees at the Civic Center, and there was smog in the basin.
The big court building beneath the common pall of haze generated its own temperature of course and, for that matter, its own peculiar climate. As it happened, Cynny Holman was there that same... see more