One November Thursday in the early Seventies two men independently leave Los Angeles to take revolutionary aerospace projects to NASA, in the hope of a contract. One, Tom Fallon, has every confidence in what he’s offering, just as he has confidence in his own ebullient personality. His private life should have promoted in him rather more self-doubt. His wife Nedith is an isolated, self-dramatising neurasthenic; his brilliant 23-year-old son Pete, a marine biologist, has just gone through a divorce after mere months of marriage and refuses to discuss why with anybody. Further, Tom has a clandestine (as he thinks) relationship with a woman outside his social milieu, Hallie (‘Mrs C’), who serves in the hosiery department of a big store and gives him grateful devotion, if within narrow parameters. Rival Jim Holman’s life is as different from Tom’s as his personality. Workaholic, fuelled by ambition, easily irritated (especially by his lazy teenage son), he enjoys a comfortable domestic life, and his wife Cynny (intelligent, reflective, strong) seems to embody traditional feminine virtues while being imaginatively open to the currents of life around her. During the two men’s absence from LA, a period of only four days, much is to change, and we will be concerned with the women and children left behind rather than with Tom and Jim themselves. Yet a great deal of what takes place can be attributed both to those aspects of their characters which distinguish them and to those which they share – pre-eminently the middle-class American male’s elevation of work and doing well to heights that totally dwarf the intimate life, a priority with which, sadly, their female partners often, only too readily, concur.
Though her characters have a memorable individuality of life, the moral health of her society was the real concern of Maritta Wolff, who died in 2002. The two metaphors for this that dominate Sudden Rain are the freeway and divorce, both vividly established in its brilliant opening pages. Freeways offer