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May 2022

Resurrecting Rain

by Patricia Averbach

Golden Antelope Press, 320 pgs.

 

Reviewed by Haviva Ner-David

Resurrecting Rain had me hooked from the opening scene when Deena, a middle-aged librarian living in an upscale suburb of Cleveland, discovers that Martin, her well-meaning, but clueless husband, has lost their home and savings in a catastrophic financial deal. What follows is a captivating tale, punctuated with dark humor, of Deena’s life unraveling as her marriage falls apart, her children slip through her fingers, and a false accusation at work gets her fired.

It comes as a surprise that Deena, a seemingly conventional woman, began life as Harmony on the New Moon Commune in Santa Fe with a lesbian mother who’d fled an Orthodox Jewish home to reinvent herself as Rain, a counter-culture hippie.

My mother named me Harmony—just Harmony, one word, like Madonna or Prince, the same way she’d named herself Rain. I would have been Harmony Marcus if my mother hadn’t jettisoned her last name along with her four-poster bed, her color TV, and her college fund.

 

Ashamed of her mother and longing for a traditional home, Harmony runs away at 14 to live with her respectable, religiously observant, grandmother. Her grandmother renames her Deena, after an aunt who’d died in the Holocaust, and provides for her every need. But this comfortable new life comes at a price: Her grandmother demands that she sit shiva for her mother and pretend that she is dead.

Deena reluctantly sacrifices her mother to construct the sort of middle-class life she thinks will protect her from hardship and embarrassment. But this book is about what happens when nothing goes the way one hopes. Her daughter drops out of Brandeis, dyes her hair blue and moves in with a group of freegans. Her son, realizing there’s no money for his education, joins the Navy, while Deena, unable to pay the rent on her apartment, moves to Sarasota, where a chain of disasters leaves her confronting the possibility of actual homelessness. This section may strike some readers as implausible, and somewhat slow-paced, but Averbach’s skillful telling of Deena’s gradual fall from grace renders each step in her downfall necessary

The Holocaust looms large in the background, a reminder of the fragility of life circumstances and the perils of defining ourselves through our possessions. It also shapes the characters’ perspectives on the nature of their own suffering.

 

There is some brilliant writing in the book, such as the story within a story telling of crows who embody the reincarnated souls of Holocaust victims. Deena finds this tale when sorting through the files of its author, an octogenarian TV writer, Raisa, who spends much of her time feeding birds. Here is a scene where Zalman, a reincarnated survivor in the body of a crow, finds his daughter, a survivor:

“No, wait,” Zalman hopped forward until he was standing directly in front on his daughter. He could have flown inside her room. He could have hopped onto her shoulder, but he just stood there looking at her, and she stared back at him without moving a muscle, waiting to see what he’d do next.

“You need to hear what happened. We were fed to the furnace where we went up the chimney as cinders and dust, flakes of black ash floating into the sky. No one remembers what happened next, but we must have blown westward out to sea. How long were we drifting on the wind? Who knows? But gradually, those black flakes began to flutter. They began to grow feathers and rise and fall in rhythm, moving with a purpose. We didn’t recognize ourselves. Everything was different, yet we remembered who we were. We flapped our unfamiliar wings and kept on moving west until, at last, we landed in New York. Most of the birds wanted to stay there, but I got restless. Something told me to keep moving west. Do you understand what I am telling you? Do you understand who I am and how much I love you?”

Raisa put out a finger and very slowly, very cautiously, touched her father on his head. “You’re one brave little bird,” she said.

It’s a heartbreaking and gorgeous story that sheds light on the larger themes of the novel. Those passages bring tears to my eyes and send shivers down my spine as I reread them now to write this review.

Through Averbach’s astute and animated writing, the reader learns, along with Deena, about the emptiness of striving for material comforts at the expense of meaning, authenticity, and love. This is a spiritual book that critiques materialism and strict, formal constructs like Orthodox Judaism, and champions living life from a place of connection and freedom of spirit.

I was especially drawn in by last third of the book, in which Deena confronts her past, meets Raisa, and learns about what really matters in life. The Deena we find at the story’s conclusion is more likeable than the one we met at the beginning. She has learned to embrace life as it comes, rather than try to control what she can’t. She discovers, too, that her mother has changed over the intervening years, so that the two women are finally able to find common ground. Rain realizes what she has lost by cutting herself off from tradition and mainstream society, while Deena reckons with the price of prioritizing financial security, predictability and stability over compassion and human connection.

The end of the novel is beautiful and poignant and Deena, and the reader, are left with the resonance of important life lessons: The best things in life are free, the only thing we can count on in life is change, and sometimes in order to find oneself one must first get lost.

Haviva Ner-David is a writer and rabbi whose rabbinic work includes mikveh ceremonies and spiritual companioning (with a specialty in dreamwork). Her third spiritual journey memoir, Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey, about her journey from Orthodox feminist to post-denominational interspiritual rabbi-minister, came out in December 2021, and her debut novel, Hope Valley (reviewed in the last issue of Reading Jewish Fiction), about the friendship between a Palestinian-Israeli and Jewish-Israeli woman in Galilee, came out in April 2021. Haviva has seven children and lives with FSHD, a form of muscular dystrophy, which has been one of her biggest teachers.

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