It’s 1916 in the fictional town of St. Elmo, California, and it hasn’t rained in weeks. Drastic measures are due. Over steak, eggs, pie, and coffee, St. Elmo’s biggest bigwigs strike a deal with the much maligned rainmaker, Hank Beecham: if he fills the reservoir with water, they’ll pay him $50,000; if he fails, he won’t get a cent.
When Hank heads up into the hills with his dynamite, caps, and gunpowder as well as his “battalion of tins and ladles, a flotilla of scoops and long-handled spoons,” most of the town is skeptical. But when explosions and flying debris give way to that old familiar pitter patter, it’s apparent Hank is no amateur in procuring precipitation. This time, though, he’s gone too far. Before you can say “hell in a handbasket,” the dam’s about to burst, and with it Hank’s hopes of retrieving his financial due.
In this tightly woven tale of honor, love, and greed, we’re supplied with a healthy dose of odd characters, page-turning intrigue, and a playful look at the Old West. “Like metal from which every alloy has been burnt off, leaving only what is hard and pure,” Kalpakian puts her prose through the proverbial refiner’s fire. What is left can only shine.
Born in Long Beach, Laura Kalpakian grew up in Southern California and holds degrees from the University of California, Riverside; the University of Delaware; and the University of California, San Diego.
Her awards include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a Pushcart Prize, and the PEN/West Award for Best Short Fiction.