Excerpt from Father of the Rain by Lily King, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Father of the Rain

A Novel

by Lily King

Father of the Rain
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Jul 2010, 384 pages
    May 2011, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven

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Print Excerpt


My father is singing.

High above Cayuga’s waters, there’s an awful smell.
Some say it’s Cayuga’s waters, some say it’s Cornell.

He always sings in the car. He has a low voice scraped out by cigarettes and all the yelling he does. His big pointy Adam’s apple bobs up and down, turning the tanned skin white wherever it moves.

He reaches over to the puppy in my lap. “You’s a good little rascal. Yes you is,” he says in his dog voice, a happy, hopeful voice he doesn’t use much on people.

The puppy was a surprise for my eleventh birthday, which was yesterday. I chose the ugliest one in the shop. My father and the owner tried to tempt me with the full-breed Newfoundlands, scooping up the silky black sacks of fur and pressing their big heavy heads against my cheek. But I held fast. A dog like that would make leaving even harder. I pushed them away and pointed to the twenty-five dollar wirehaired mutt that had been in the corner cage since winter.

My father dropped the last Newfoundland back in its bed of shavings. “Well, it’s her birthday,” he said slowly, with all the bitterness of a boy whose birthday it was not.

He didn’t speak to me again until we got into the car. Then, before he started the engine, he touched the dog for the first time, pressing its ungainly ears flat to its head. “I’m not saying you’s not ugly because you is ugly. But you’s a keeper.

“From the halls of Montezuma,” he sings out to the granite boulders that line the highway home, “to the shores of Tripoli!” We have both forgotten about Project Genesis. The blue van is in our driveway, blocking my father’s path into the garage.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” he says in his fake crying voice, banging his forehead on the steering wheel. “Why me?” He turns slightly to make sure I’m laughing, then moans again. “Why me?” We hear them before we see them, shrieks and thuds and slaps, a girl hollering “William! William!” over and over, nearly all of them screaming, “Watch me! Watch this!”

“I’s you new neighba,” my father says to me, but not in his happy dog voice.

I carry the puppy and my father follows with the bed, bowls, and food. My pool is unrecognizable. There are choppy waves, like way out on the ocean, with whitecaps. The cement squares along its edge, which are usually hot and dry and sizzle when you lay your wet stomach on them, are soaked from all the water washing over the sides.

It’s my pool because my father had it built for me. On the morning of my fifth birthday he took me to our club to go swimming. Just as I put my feet on the first wide step of the shallow end and looked out toward the dark deep end and the thick blue and red lines painted on the bottom, the lifeguard hollered from his perch that there were still fifteen minutes left of adult swim. My father, who’d belonged to the club for twenty years, who ran and won all the tennis tournaments, explained that it was his daughter’s birthday.

The boy, Thomas Novak, shook his head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Amory,”

he called down. “She’ll have to wait fifteen minutes like everyone else.”

My father laughed his you’re a moron laugh. “But there’s no one in the pool!”

“I’m sorry. It’s the rules.”

“You know what?” my father said, his neck blotching purple, “I’m going home and building my own pool.”

He spent that afternoon on the telephone, yellow pages and a pad of paper on his lap, talking to contractors and writing down numbers. As I lay in bed that night, I could hear him in the den with my mother. “It’s the rules,” he mimicked in a baby voice, saying over and over that a kid like that would never be allowed through the club’s gates if he didn’t work there, imitating his mother’s “Hiya” down at the drugstore where she worked. In the next few weeks, trees were sawed down and a huge hole dug, cemented, painted, and filled with water. A little house went up beside it with changing rooms, a machine room, and a bathroom with a sign my father hung on the door that read WE DON’T SWIM IN YOUR TOILET—PLEASE DON’T PEE IN OUR POOL.

Father of the Rain © 2010 by Lily King, reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Atlantic, Inc.

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