She-Rain is a tale that describes a full spectrum of human emotions: sadness and humor, tenderness and brutality, hatred and love. It begins in 1921 in the mountains of North Carolina where Frank Locke lives amidst poverty and violence with uneducated parents who at first appear to have few feelings for one another.
Frank’s mother has made every attempt to keep their family together even though his father vacillates between alcohol, laudanum, and paregoric to name just a few easily obtained substances that he abuses. When his father is high, he becomes depressed, morose, unreasonable, quick to anger, and abusive, toward his wife and ten-year-old Frank, each tries to protect the other.
Often out of control, Frank’s father clobbers his son for no good reasons. Early in She-Rain, he attacks the lad just as dinner is about to begin. Frank sees his father eating with his fingers. When a wad of saliva-soaked okra rolls from his mouth to splat on the floor, Frank Locke panics. He recognizes that an eruption is about to occur. Quietly he moves away from the table to sit out of sight on the floor.
When his father orders him back to his chair as his mother enters the room, Frank accidentally knocks a large honey jar to the floor. Even as shards of earthenware scatter from the point of impact, Frank’s father leaps to his feet and assaults his son, knocking him down, crushing his cheek into a crack between the floorboards with the full weight of his body. Daring to meddle in her son’s punishment, now the enraged man turns on his wife and “beats her bloody.”
By 1929, Frank Locke has developed into a lean but muscular teen. When his mother asks him to drive into town to collect her husband, jailed for starting a bloody brawl at the local cotton mill, Frank obeys. Instead of taking his aging father directly home, he drives to an abandoned livery stable and drags the sickly man inside where he slaps him mercilessly then shoves his face down into a fresh heap of dung. Frank shows his father a special tombstone he’s had carved just for him. It will be used the very next time his father even thinks of offending his wife or himself. The tombstone reads:
Born: Somebody Died: Manure
Frank Locke has always been attracted to a local girl who startled him unexpectedly from bushes near the end of his back yard: “Whatcha doin’, lil’ Locke?” calls Mary Lizbeth. Spooked, he cries out, “Sweet mother of Moses, girl, you pert near scared me dead.” This incident began an infatuation between these two youngsters which blossoms throughout She-Rain. Frank and Mary Lisbeth meet by chance at times, then more often by design. During one interlude the two unite sexually to become sworn lovers for life; nothing will come between Frank and Mary L. as he often calls her.
Frank’s uncle “Useless” (Ulysses) proves to be a dim-witted, good-for-nothing, lazy fool, who possesses only one useful muscle he uses regularly. As a result, Frank’s aunt has birthed a housefull of underfed illiterates since Useless is unable and unwilling to support them. It is Frank and his mother who provide much of the sustenance for his brood's survival. An argument between the two men turns deadly. Crazed by seeing her son wrestling in the dirt, Frank’s mother smashes the skull of hated Useless with a wedge-shaped log splitter.
Frank will not allow his mother to take the rap for killing the idiotic Useless. “Say I did it. It was me you hear?” cries Frank as he dashes off deep into the hills vowing not to return. His flight takes him miles away into rugged mountain terrain. Attempting to leap onto a moving freight, he never quite gets his balance atop a boxcar. He falls to plunge downhill into a fast moving river.
In a shallow several miles downstream, soft feminine hands drag him ashore. They belong to an extremely attractive African American who lives hermit-like in a huge mansion along with several servants. Her adoptive wealthy white parents have hidden her from the world of racial bigotry. Unlike Frank’s first love, Mary Lizbeth, educated Sophia lives a luxurious sophisticated but lonely life.
She enraptures Frank; but once the God-fearing woman learns of Frank’s vow to Mary Lizbeth, she cannot — will not — lure him from her. Frank's psyche is ripped between the quiet charming etiquette of this beautiful black goddess and his unquenchable desire for Mary L. back home in the mountains. Strangely, these two women he loves begin to communicate by post with each other.
The beauty of Michael Cogdill’s She-Rain isn’t that it’s just another captivating story. Most significantly, the entire book reads like a poem. Many of the lines I've read again and again because of the imagery they suggest. Cogdill describes the misty haze that lingers above the valleys and forests of the Carolina Mountains as “She-Rain … A little tear off a heaven gown.”
The allegories in this tale are stunning. Intense summer heat inside an automobile becomes — “hotter than hell’s burnt biscuits;” a town doctor becomes — “an Infernal bald-headed sawbone … whole town could catch the hydrophobee before we find him;” an outburst of anger — “I rose, swearing fire … flame-cured wrath … the words would have crackled off that rock in a hail of sparks thick enough to set the woods to roaring fire.”
While the prose of this book will captivate your imagination, its story will haunt you unto the final epilogue. So many novels, movies, plays, and TV programs paint a love triangle as something cheap — a bored unfaithful spouse steals away for a cheap sexual thrill. No so with this book.
She-rain is never a shameful story. The raw emotions of the love triangle will lie heavy on your heart because they are so naked. You will experience Frank’s fractured emotions as he tries to sort out and face his feelings. You will feel the pain of Sophia and Mary Lizbeth who both seek the same prize: Frank. Yet each is willing to let Frank choose the other to fulfill his own happiness.
This book is a gem. It is no wonder it took Cogdill many years to bring it to perfection. So, what happens to the lives of the simple folk who live and die deep in the forested Carolina Mountains beneath the She-Rain, I will leave to your imagination, but don't miss it!