Before I get rolling with this review, let me make one statement about Drought – it is one of the most unique books that I have ever read. It is intense, it is bleak, and there were a couple of times that I wanted to set it aside and just catch my breath. It is one of the most depressing books I have ever read, and I kept asking myself one question – why, why, WHY? What is the purpose for all of this suffering and sacrifice? This is a book about a love so twisted that it defies comprehension. It is also the story of unbelievable selfishness, the inability to accept when a relationship is over, and when it comes down to it, it is the chronicle of a clash of wills that has two people refusing to back down and admit defeat. After 200 years, you would think that at least one of them would grow up.
Part of the suspense of Drought are the slow, sometimes agonizingly slow, plot revelations. At the start of the book, I was totally in the dark about everything. Why were these people collecting water from flowers and plants with spoons and cups? Why did they have a quota to meet? Why was Ruby’s mother, Sula, constantly beaten, with a length of chain, when enough water to fill the quota wasn’t collected? What the heck is all of this about?
Ruby’s mother is the leader of a group of Congregants, and they are waiting for Ruby’s father to return and liberate them. In the meantime, they are captives of Darwin West and his Overseers. Ruby’s life is a living hell for a couple of reasons. First, her mother and Darwin West are locked in an epic battle of wills that seems to have no end. Next, her blood has the ability to heal wounds and extend life, an ability she shares with her father. Only a select few know of Ruby’s secret, and they will do anything to keep her secret and control her blood. The Congregants live meager, miserable lives, and they are the playthings of Darwin. He is cruel and harsh, and he doesn’t hesitate to punish any transgression.
Sula isn’t much better. Her undying adoration for Ruby’s father has led her to pain and suffering. After spurning Darwin for Otto, she must flee her comfortable life in town. She has convinced a group of followers to escape with her, but they end up setting up camp on Darwin’s land. A hastily conceived lie then seals their unpleasant fate, and binds them together for 200 years of drudgery. Ruby grows up knowing nothing else. The woods, the gathering of water, long days filled with suffering, and never having enough to eat. All the while, the Congregants wait and pray for Otto to return to bring them deliverance.
There are so many layers to this book, and though I had a real problem trying to make sense of some of the characters’ actions and justifications, I found it difficult to step away from Ruby’s messed up world, where love means pain and betrayal. Only Ruby remains untainted, as she accepts her mother’s fanatical belief in Otto. Otto will return, Otto will bring them peace and free them from Darwin. When Ruby falls in love with a new Overseer, she begins to question everything about her life. Why are they doing this? It’s when she begins to wonder where Otto went that her world starts to unravel. Allowing herself to love Ford means turning her back on the people who have sheltered and protected her for her entire life. Reading along as she grapples with difficult decisions, choices that will change her life forever and drive a wedge between herself and her mother, kept me transfixed. That her mother forced her to do this kept me horrified. So many emotions swirled through me as I read this, and that has made Drought an unforgettable read for me.
Drought is not an easy book to read, nor is it an easy book to forget. It gave me a lot to think about, and kept me guessing the whole time I was reading it. Many of my questions never did get answered. The more I think about it, the more I liked it, because it did cause me to feel so many conflicted emotions. Do I recommend it? Yes, but with this caveat; be prepared to be put through the wringer!