A remarkable debut that reinvents, elaborates and extends into the late 20th century the story Puccini made famous in Madama Butterfly.
Woodley Sharpless—orphan, cripple, closeted homosexual—is a noted biographer. He guides us through the life story of Ben “Trouble” Pinkerton. Trouble is the apt name for a man who makes a scene on the periphery of history. Trouble is the only son of the Pinkertons. Sen. Pinkerton could have been president. Kate, his wife, is a Manville, daughter of a dynastic political family. This is Sharpless’ story as well. Trouble’s parents, well meaning, controlling and weary of publicity, enlist Sharpless as a minder for their wayward son. We think we know Trouble, the man who has everything, who refuses to grow up, who lives a life without consequences but is nonetheless given opportunities. This is the joke that’s no joke: We know “trouble,” can see it coming. Sharpless meets and falls for Trouble at Blaze, a boarding school. Trouble doesn’t last long but during his brief tenure, becomes many things to Sharpless: hero, love-object, obsession. Le Vol, another lifelong friend Sharpless makes at Blaze, reappears in the story, representing a vivid alternative to the life Sharpless leads in Trouble’s wake. Every part of the novel—from the names to the books the characters have in their pockets to the invented opera added to Puccini’s oeuvre—is considered, a calculated risk to draw attention to itself. The book might be called postmodern, but it never makes references to create ironic distance—on the contrary, every detail is in the service of the elaborate, operatic melodrama, the story within the story. A version of the ancient story of love and honor, and honor betrayed, it culminates at the Trinity A-bomb test, the characters, each in their own way, devastated.
Rain is master of this inventive, operatic and at moments harrowing debut.