Thunder only happens when it rains – Ali Shaw’s The Man Who Rained

Cover image for ali shaw's Man who rainedAli Shaw has a way of capturing voice in his retellings of fairy tales. The Man Who Rained is the second novel. Moving from the slightly bleaker Northern European, late Hans Christian Andersen style The Girl with Glass Feet, this novel settles in small town America.

Instead of exploring the influence and assimilation of other cultures, it considers the retold local tale. It could also fit into the valleys of Wales in its retelling of the mythical beings who fall in love but are destined to repeat themselves.

Each story contains a certain relation between the natural environment and the landscape. A holistic story and existence. Elsa moves to Thundertown after her father is killed chasing tornados and meets Finn, an outcast who lives in the woods. By accident she sees that he is made of a storm.

Exploring his story takes her into the town’s history and its reliance on tradition. Although he uses a present setting, the land’s history seeps into every pore and vein of the town’s life.

In one sense the novel is a small town love story where the outsider falls in love with the oddball. It has its roots but some how comes together. Shaw brings on the conflagration of the different faiths in the Biblical flood which we see coming. He captures the way that faith is perhaps hidden behind as a crutch by the towns folk as well as something which to be negotiated and held deeply. It does explore the way in which we take in creation myths to explain things and how they might be interpreted and thought about as, that story is something which is renewed every so often.

The encroaching thunderstorm, born of impossibility, is developed just the fantastic side of the Southern Gothic. Moving away from the murderous happenings of Faulkner, we find the emphasis on the way that nature overwrites the body, creating it and emphasising the internal. His world is one which allows, if not fully accepts, the mystical. It is more rooted in the natural world, exploring the Romantic way of using the fantastic to explore the more deeply felt emotions. Rather than being a bloody conflagration that we might expect, the flood cleanses the town of something but we are not quite sure what. Since Finn came from an impossible birth, Old Man Thunder could appear again. Somehow the passion has been pushed away the rawness of deep emotion once again removed from a small urban mindset.

Instead of the use of fairy tales to explore a darker side of life, as Helen Oyeyemi does, Shaw goes back to an English Romantic vision. The rawness of emotion is exposed with an acceptance of the fantastic with the real. Rather than trying to justify the oddness, it is used to show how odd the world is at times.

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