Oftentimes a debut novel is something to get out of the way so an author can get onto writing something that touches readers on many levels; thankfully for Sarah Loudin Thomas, there is no such problem. Her first novel, “Miracle in a Dry Season,” is full of characters that are believable, honest, and far from perfect. From the first sentence until the last page is turned, readers will feel like they are a part of the small community of Wise, West Virginia.Whether they identify with Casewell Phillips, a bachelor who makes his living as a woodworker and handyman; Perla Long, a young, unmarried mother with a mysterious past; or one of the other hardworking, church-going citizens in this story set in 1954, each reader will remember the characters long after the book is finished.
The author paints pictures with her words to describe the characters and the community they live in. It’s nearly impossible for the reader to not see te people of Wise with sentences like “Strangers often had a hard time telling the twins apart…Both were a whisper over five feet tall, with silvery hair braided and twisted into a bun at the nape of the neck… And while they both had blue eyes, Angie’s had a hint of ice, while Liza’s looked like faded cornflowers.” Or to not taste and smell the delicious foods cooked by Perla with phrases like “He could sense the shape of each individual bean in his mouth before they dissolved into a deliciously creamy mass” and “peach cobbler, still bubbling hot…Casewell breathed in the aroma of roasted chicken, peaches, and butter.” In fact, it’s Perla’s way with food that causes much of the conflict in “Miracle in a Dry Season.”
When Perla and her five-year-old daughter Sadie come to stay with her aunt and uncle in Wise, she believes it will be just what she and her little girl need. Her parents and the people of their community have not made it a secret about how they feel about an unmarried woman with a child. One that can turn a few potatoes, a chicken breast, and some butter and flour into a meal fit for a king doesn’t help them accept her any better. So for Perla and Sadie, Wise is meant to be a chance to start over without the past following them. Unfortunately, it isn’t too long before meals prepared by Perla are being recognized as unusual. And the fact that she doesn’t have a husband is hard to ignore. Try as he might though, Casewell feels drawn to Perla and Sadie and isn’t long before he finds himself trying to ignore his growing concern for them.
In addition to the mystery surrounding Perla and her ability to make a minimal amount of food feed hundreds, Casewell and the other members of the small West Virginian community also must deal with a drought that destroys their crops, dries up their wells, and forces them to take a look at what may be a supernatural cause for their problems. Add to this situation the fact that Casewell and his father may not have much time to repair their damaged relationship and secret the Talbot twins have been hiding for 50 years and readers will have a hard time putting this book down. While not overly sentimental or filled with enigmatic events, the author has a way of making the reader feel connected to the characters and wonder about the reasons certain circumstances happen when there isn’t a simple explanation.
“Miracle in a Dry Season” is published by Bethany House Publishers and was released in August 2014. It’s available from independent booksellers in neighborhoods around the country.
The Christian Fiction Examiner received a free copy of this book from the publisher.