Right as Rain [NOOK Book]


In the tradition of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and The Secret Life of Bees, this luminous, heartfelt novel explores the tragedies and triumphs, the pleasures and sorrows of two women, Tee Wee and Icey, their families, and the white family that employs them as cook and housekeeper on a tenant farm in rural Mississippi.

Though the women are as different as water and wine—Icey is feisty, hot-tempered, and impulsive, while Tee ...
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Right as Rain

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In the tradition of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and The Secret Life of Bees, this luminous, heartfelt novel explores the tragedies and triumphs, the pleasures and sorrows of two women, Tee Wee and Icey, their families, and the white family that employs them as cook and housekeeper on a tenant farm in rural Mississippi.

Though the women are as different as water and wine—Icey is feisty, hot-tempered, and impulsive, while Tee Wee is more submissive and disciplined—both are driven by a passionate determination to give their children a better life. Through trying times, they are the pillars, fierce and resilient; yet they celebrate life with a love of food, music, and family that makes even the most traumatic moments endurable. The illicit love between Tee Wee’s daughter Crow and the white landowner’s son Browder; the heartbreaking death of one of Icey’s children, for which she will blame herself; the murder trial of Tee Wee’s youngest son which threatens to tear apart not just their family but the entire town—all these events are interwoven with occasions of joy, including Crow’s fulfillment of her lifelong dream and Tee Wee’s own hard-fought success.

A richly emotional epic spanning two decades in the Deep South, the story of Tee Wee and Icey and their families are a prism through which we view the universal—racial strife, dysfunctional families, secrets and redemption. Illuminated by a resonant storytelling voice and dialogue that rings loud and true, Right as Rain provides indelible portraits of indomitable characters and an almost tangible sense of place, while revealing a deep understanding of race in mid-century America’s rural south.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Julia Livshin
… all in all, Marshall does a convincing job of balancing two decades' worth of tragedy and good fortune, change and stasis, in plotting out these lives.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
"In the moonlight she fantasized that she and Browder were silver people, not black or white, but only different shades of pure sterling." The fantasy belongs to beautiful Crow, whose mother, Tee Wee Weathersby, cooks for Browder's mother, Euylis Parsons. Crow and Browder love each other truly, madly, deeply, but it's 1958 in Zebulon, Miss., and race is fate. Bestseller Marshall (Walking Through Shadows) is an extraordinary storyteller. A master of spoken and internalized speech, she keeps the reader in intimate proximity to her large cast as she weaves her various plot threads, moving deftly from 1940 to 1968. There's laugh-aloud humor in the ferociously competitive friendship between Tee Wee and Icey Hamilton, who hires on as the Parsonses' maid and moves into the other tenant house on the farm; the scene in which the two women mud wrestle is priceless. And there is plenty of heartbreak, too, particularly when Icey loses her son Memphis in a senseless accident. Marshall's great triumph is her ability to convey the humanity of all her characters, male and female, black and white. Even those stock villains of Southern racism, the sheriff and the district attorney, seem victims of an inherited ethos. There's a touch of Hollywood in the long homicide trial at the end of the book, but Tyler Powers, the long-haired, Harvard-trained white lawyer whom Crow hires to defend her little brother, J.P., beautifully makes the point that in Mississippi of 1968, it's the whites who need to be freed. 5-city author tour. (Mar. 30) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“An old-fashioned Southern family saga and a page-turner, a wonderful blend of comedy and tragedy. This novel takes on, without fear, the complex truths and ironies that make up black-on-white life in the deep South. Bev Marshall knows her land and her people. These voices ring true.”
—BRAD WATSON, author of The Heaven of Mercury

“Bev Marshall has managed the rare feat of mixing history and fiction, memory and magic, and she has accomplished the all but impossible task of writing about race in a way that is utterly generous, without censure, apology, or fear. . . . After this one book, she’s one of my favorite writers. I look forward to reading everything she’s written and is going to write. It’s not often that a writer’s staying power is so evident so quickly.”
—KAYE GIBBONS, author of Ellen Foster and Divining Women

“One of those quietly absorbing stories that draws the reader right in and never lets go . . . Like all the best Southern writers, Marshall explores those time-tested ideas of faith, race, place, and family and makes them her own. But the real grace–and glory–of Right as Rain is that it is pitch perfect. Reading this novel is like sitting on a porch in a summer breeze listening to an old friend tell you a story you know well but can’t wait to hear again.”
–New Orleans Times Picayune

Right as Rain is a saga in the best sense of the word. . . . Marshall has put her heart and soul on the page for the reader and the result is a novel so haunting and beautiful that it will stay with me always. This book firmly establishes Bev Marshall as one of our most amazing and vivid American voices.”
—SILAS HOUSE, author of A Parchment of Leaves and Clay’s Quilt

“Fans of Lee Smith, Ellen Gilchrist, and Fannie Flagg will likely find Marshall’s latest as a welcome addition to the collection of fine Southern fiction.”
The Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS)

“Marshall is an extraordinary storyteller. . . . [Her] greatest triumph is her ability to convey the humanity of all her characters.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“I marvel at the wisdom tucked away inside these pages, at the generosity and artistic grace on display here. This is a fine, fine book.”
—STEVE YARBROUGH, author of Prisoners of War and The Oxygen Man

“Bev Marshall has not so much written a novel as she has drawn back the curtain on a South-facing window, a view of Mississippi fifty years ago, of forty and thirty years ago. . . . They are not so much characters as people we have known; their stories not so much witnessed as shared. The shifting points of view—female and male, black and white—never shift away from honesty and authenticity.”
—SONNY BREWER, editor, Stories from the Blue Moon Café anthology

“A brilliantly crafted page-turner, Right as Rain spins a cinematic tale of familial love, everlasting friendship, and secret desire that will entrench you in the lives of its characters so completely you will never want it to end.”
—SUZANNE KINGSBURY, author of The Summer Fletcher Greel Loved Me and The Gospel According to Gracey

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307416544
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/18/2007
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 1,296,588
  • File size: 712 KB

Meet the Author

Bev Marshall is the critically acclaimed author of Walking Through Shadows. A native of McComb, Mississippi, she lived as a nomadic military wife for many years. Marshall returned to her Southern roots and taught English at Southeastern Louisiana University. She now lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with her husband.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Right as Rain

By Bev Marshall

Ballantine Books

Copyright © 2004 Bev Marshall
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-345-46841-4

Chapter One

Tee Wee stood on her front porch, arms folded over her huge breasts, black, bare feet wide apart. She weighed more than two hundred pounds, and in her Sunday navy blue dress with red stripes, over which she wore a small white apron, she resembled a large mailbox. On her head she wore a straw boater with black streamers. As she reached to straighten the hat, adjusting the streamers so that they curled around her neck, she thought how unfair it was that the Parsons had chosen Luther to be the one to go get this Summit woman who called herself Icey. And on a Sunday, too! Tee Wee's day had begun at five when she had stumbled to the kitchen to make pies for dinner at Mount Zion. Then at meeting four sinners had been called to Jesus, which meant an extra hour of testifying and singing, and when she had finally gotten home after three o'clock, she barely had time to make her famous chicken pie and put her Sunday clothes back on before Luther was due back.

When Tee Wee saw an orange ball of dust swirling up the hill, she crossed her arms and took a deep breath. Now she could see the black car slowly moving toward her. The 1940 Ford was ten years old and didn't run half the time, but its chrome bumpers were still shiny, and it was the only car owned by a colored on Enterprise Road.

Now another woman was sitting in the passenger's seat of that Ford. "Here she comes," Tee Wee said. "Here comes misery up my drive." Last week Mrs. Parsons had broken the news that Tee Wee's daughter Ernestine wasn't going to get the housekeeping job after that no-good Pansy had quit. No, she was giving the job, the tenant house next door, and half of Tee Wee's vegetable garden to this Icey. And all because Icey's man had run off and she was kin to Idella, who cleaned up the white Methodist church. "So she got young'ns to feed. We all got them," she mumbled to herself. And the worst insult of all was Luther having to drive up to Summit to fetch her and her children. Didn't the woman have no friends to help her? Like as not, she thought. Woman can't hold her man can't hold no friends.

Luther pulled into the small circle of shade offered by the only oak in their yard. Tee Wee began counting heads in the car. Luther's. Hers. Three young'ns. Tee Wee smiled. Four of her six were in the house behind her. The back doors of the car opened and the passengers began falling out of the Ford. None of them had on shoes. She kept smiling. Then she saw a pair of black patent leather pumps dangling from beneath the door of the passenger's side. Her smile vanished. She wished she hadn't taken off her shoes, but they were two sizes too small, and her feet had been killing her after wearing them to meeting this morning. When Icey finally got out of the Ford, Tee Wee saw that she was nearly as large as herself and also in her early thirties. The woman's skin was walnut-colored, and she was wearing a white lace dress with a blue aster blossom stuck in one of the holes over her left breast. Her head was, Tee Wee saw with relief, hatless. Luther, who normally limped from an injury caused by a mule falling on his left leg, swung around the car like he'd never seen a jackass, much less had one fall on him.

Tee Wee didn't move. Let them come up to her. "Bout time. Supper's on and gettin scorched."

Luther laughed like she'd said something funny. "This here's our new neighbor, Tee. Name of Icey."

Icey nodded, dipping her head to show a big silver barrette holding up her black curls. "Tee Wee," she said. "Look like we gonna be neighbors a spell."

Tee Wee turned her back and opened the screen door. "Look like that," she said, pulling the door open and stepping over all the children who had been leaning against it. "Ernestine, Crow, you girls come for these young'ns," she called to her daughters. Let this Icey know she had help in her house; let her know she didn't raise no trash. And she grinned, hurrying back to the kitchen. Let her smell my chicken pie and greens cookin and see them four pies on my windowsill when she look out hers.

Icey didn't notice the pies because she was too busy inspecting her wonderful new home. After Luther followed Tee Wee into their house, Icey had led her children inside the adjacent, identical one, where they would now be living. Four rooms-more than she'd ever had before-a roof that looked like it wouldn't leak, and most wondrous of all, electricity! Every bare bulb hanging from the ceiling in each room came magically alive with a small orange glow when she flipped the little lever on the wall.

Looking to her left, she saw the small kitchen, which had a wood-burning stove, a washstand, and even some shelves to put dishes on. The other door from the front room led to a back bedroom, and from there she could see into another small bedroom. No windows, but there was one in the kitchen and one in the front room, and only two panes were broken. "Thank You, Lord Jesus," Icey said, lifting her head to the wooden ceiling. Preacher Smith had said the Lord would provide and He had.

The house was furnished with only a few sticks of furniture: a couch with broken springs and stuffing protruding out both cushions, a small wooden table in the kitchen, two straight ladder-backed chairs, and one mattress on the floor. Icey kicked off the shoes she'd stuffed paper in to make them fit and threw herself down on the couch. She sagged to the floor. "Okay, young'ns," she called to the children who were wandering through the house like scattered ants. "Bring all them boxes in; we home."

When Tee Wee turned out the lights at nine, she noticed Icey's house was aglow with pumpkin light. Hidden in the darkness of her own window, she stood looking through Icey's kitchen into the front room. Two naked children were sprawled out on the floor on sheets and blankets, and what Tee Wee declared to herself were "nothin but rags." Craning her head sideways, she could see Icey sitting on the couch, still wearing the lace dress and shriveled blue aster; she held something in her hand that looked like a book. Raising the window, Tee Wee stuck her head out into the cool night air. It was a book, and the woman's head was down like she was reading it. Tee Wee felt enormously jealous. Her secret dream was to learn to read and write. Her Ernestine could read, Crow, Rufus, and Paul, too, but Tee Wee herself could barely make out her name. "I said this woman was trouble, and here it is sittin right there next door to me." She slammed the window down and made her way in the darkness to her bed, where Luther lay sleeping with his mouth wide open. Crawling in beside her man, Tee Wee curled her big body around his bony form. Readin ain't everythin, she told herself. Let her sleep with that book; I got a man.

Icey and Tee Wee came out of their houses the next morning at the same moment and stood planted on their porches staring over at each other like gladiators about to enter an arena. This Monday morning was an overcast, gray fall day, and the obscured sun gave off little warmth. Tee Wee pulled her sweater arms down over her square hands. She knew it would be hot in just a few hours, but for now the wool felt comforting to her. Icey, she saw out of the corner of her eye, had no sweater, but she looked perfectly warm in her sleeveless print housedress. Tee Wee yawned and stretched, stalling for time to decide how to handle this situation she'd have every morning now that Trouble had moved in. Well, she decided finally, weren't no help for it. They'd be going to the same place at the same time every day. "Mornin, Icey," she called across the few feet between them.

Icey nodded. "Look like a beautiful day."

Tee Wee took another look up at the gray sky. "Might rain, though," she said.

"Might at that," Icey said, sauntering down the three wooden steps to wait for Tee Wee. "I hopes not. Children will get wet walkin to school." She wanted Tee Wee to know that all of her children went to school.

Tee Wee was smiling as she came down her three steps. "Yes, mine's got a umbrella, though." With three broken ribs, she wasn't going to mention.

"Oh," Icey said. "Well, maybe it won't rain anyway."

"Maybe not," Tee Wee said, walking on toward the Parsons', "but I believes I just felt a drop on my head."

Icey caught up with her. "I didn't feel nothin. You sure a bird ain't found you?"

Tee Wee walked faster. These morning walks to work were gonna be nothing but misery from now on. "I knows the difference between droppins and water," she said.

Icey smiled. She thought to herself that these walks with Tee Wee might turn out to be the best part of her day.

At the Parsons' house the two women gave each other wide berth. Tee Wee hardly ever left the kitchen, and although Icey's cleaning chores included that area, Tee Wee made it clear that she trusted no one to clean her domain. Icey, who was allowed to take her noonday meal at her employer's, never complimented Tee Wee on her fried chicken, blueberry cobbler, tea cakes, or even her chicken pie, which all the Parsons declared to be the best in Mississippi, and so the two continued as they had the first morning, sparring with words. They wore dresses normally reserved for Sunday meeting; they waved starred schoolwork their children brought home in each other's faces; they mentioned nearly every possession they had acquired of any worth at all. When Icey set her iron wash pot on her front porch, Tee Wee produced her own with red plastic flowers peeking out of it. On Wednesday Tee Wee set a china milk pitcher on her kitchen windowsill, and by Thursday Icey had placed a china sugar bowl on hers. And every evening when Tee Wee pushed a protesting Luther out onto her front porch, Icey would respond by going inside and opening her Bible, which she read aloud in a voice that sounded like the preacher's when he was ordering devils out of the hearts of his congregation.

Icey's and Tee Wee's children were, however, fast friends by the weekend. They shared the few homemade toys they possessed between them: corn husk and clothespin dolls, slingshots, balls made of twine, pine straw and chinaberry jewelry, and whittled wooden swords and guns. At Sunday meeting the children sat together while Icey and Tee Wee chose separate pews. Icey wore her white lace again, and Tee Wee had sewn a bit of red ribbon on the sleeves of her navy blue Sunday dress. If Icey noticed the addition, she showed no sign. Thus, Icey's first week in her tenant house ended as it had begun: Icey went to bed with her Bible, Tee Wee with her man. And both warriors, already battle-weary, dreamed of victories in skirmishes yet to come.

Icey's second week as Tee Wee's neighbor brought only more stalemates, and on Thursday Icey grudgingly complimented Tee Wee on her lemon meringue pie. At first Tee Wee thought Icey was only baiting her again and watched her face carefully before answering. When she saw genuine pleasure in Icey's eyes after forking another bite into her mouth, Tee Wee straightened her back, lifted her head, and said, "It's in how long you beat the whites makes meringue right. I beats four minutes longer than most."

"Well, it sure taste good."

They were sitting on the back steps of the Parsons' house resting between the noontime and evening meals. Icey continued to look at Tee Wee without the ice in her eyes Tee Wee thought she was named for. "Well," Tee Wee said, scraping her plate with her fork, trying to think of something nice to say back. "You done a good job on that old mirror in the hall. Seem like the woman Parsons had before you just smeared it up every time she touched it."

"I use newspaper and vinegar. That do the job right on mirrors. Windows, too."

"Parsons is pretty picky bout their help." Then, in the habit she'd fallen into, she couldn't resist adding, "I guess you ain't used to workin for such fine folk."

Icey stood up and held out her saucer and fork to Tee Wee. "I don't reckon the Parsons is any more picky than them Manchesters I work for in Summit. They used to entertain the governor of this here whole state, and he came to visit one day and said, 'Icey, you does keep things nice round here.' That what he said."

Tee Wee stood up, ignoring the saucer and fork Icey was holding out. She couldn't think of anybody who'd visited the Parsons worth mentioning. Silently, she turned and entered her kitchen. A governor, she thought to herself. Imagine that.

Icey, following her in, set her dish on the table. "Well, that pie was good, Tee. I best get back to dustin the furniture. See you later."

"Yeah, I'll see you whether I wants to or not," Tee Wee mumbled, slinging the saucer into the sink with such force it shattered into tiny pieces.

The next day on their walk to work Tee Wee brought up the subject she'd been burning to know about ever since she'd met Icey. "What happened to your man?"

Icey looked down at the brown grass, which wore a slight dusting of early white frost. "Run off. Same's the two before him."

Tee Wee glanced over and, seeing Icey's chin drooping over her chest, felt a stirring of sympathy in her own. "Well, before Luther, I had three men. First one, by the name of Frank, I married when I weren't but fourteen, had Ernestine, who's eighteen now, then next two years I had my boys, Rufus and Paul. They moved to town. Work at the Co-op. Back then we lived on the Dyson Place and Frank was plumb crazy. The things that man done." Tee Wee shook her head. "Anyways, I run him off and then along comes David Jefferson, who is Crow's daddy. We moved to Magnolia and then he got in trouble with the law and left. Crow ain't got over him leavin yet. Next one was Curtis, a good man. Then we come to this house. Birthed my twins, Lester and Masie. Curtis was older than me, wore hisself out I reckon. Died in bed one night. Bad heart."

"How'd you feel? Bout that last one I mean?"

"Sad. And mad, too."

"Was he good-lookin?"

Tee Wee laughed. "I reckon. All the gals at meetin wanted him to get called to Jesus just so they could look at him on Sundays."

"My last was right good lookin, too. He was tall and big, and had hands wide as a plate. Good hands, but he weren't no good. Ran with anythin, stole, lied, played dice, and got so lickered up on weekends, he'd get in a fight and end up in jail." Icey slowed her pace, turned toward Tee Wee. "Still I miss him anyhow. Miss havin somebody to laugh with."

"I knows, girl. Waited a year before Luther come along. He's a good man. Ain't been with me that long, but so far as I can tell, this here one is gonna stay." Tee Wee looked back at her house anxiously. She shouldn't have said that. Say it and it won't be so. Everybody knew that.

Icey looked back, too. "I got to get a man to stay. I can't do enough work to pay rent on the place by myself. My sixteen-year-old Eli is plannin on movin out so's he can work in town, but when he does he ain't gonna make enough to help me. Jonas ain't but twelve and got to get schooled, and Glory, well, she just cost money."


Excerpted from Right as Rain by Bev Marshall Copyright © 2004 by Bev Marshall. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Bev Marshall

Q:Where did you get the idea for Right as Rain? Did it come out of your own experiences growing up in Mississippi?

Like nearly everything I've written, the genesis of Right As Rain is my family. I was visiting one of my numerous great-aunts with my father, and while sitting at her kitchen table, Aunt Bonnell related the story of Icey, who had accidently driven her truck over her son and killed him when he fell from the gate in my aunt and uncle's pasture. I wrote a short story about this incident, which was rejected by Michael Curtis at The Atlantic Monthly with the observation that this "lively story-telling" was better suited to a novel. I had also written a short story about Crow dancing in a barn for an adolescent white boy, but I couldn't capture Crow's essence in the piece and had tossed it in my "someday maybe" file. As I began to develop the Icey story, I realized that Crow was meant to be a part of it and merged her character into the novel. As the novel evolved, I relied on memories of my childhood which were greatly influenced by my experiences in that era in rural Mississippi, where many of my relatives still live.

Q:What did you want to accomplish as a writer in Right as Rain?

Primarily I just wanted to tell a good story that people would enjoy reading. I don't write with an agenda. As a former teacher of literature, I believe that a reader's engagement with a text depends on many factors, and what I want to accomplish in a story is irrelevant to them. It is what the reader seeks and accepts or rejects ultimately that matters.

Q:Are yourcharacters based on people you know or knew? How about Tee Wee and Icey, the two strong black women who occupy the center of the novel?

I did not know Icey, but Tee Wee was inspired by an African American woman I knew who lived next door to my grandmother. Her daughter's name was Tee Wee and I knew her only slightly. The relationship between them and much of their character traits were derived purely from my imagination. None of the other characters are based on anyone, except that Ruthie possesses some of my own traits . . . although, thankfully, I've been happily married to the right man for over thirty years.

Q:As a white woman, you've done something bold, and sure to be controversial, in this novel: namely, written about African Americans in the South just before and during the years of the Civil Rights movement. African American writers like Toni Morrison and the playwright August Wilson have argued that white writers simply don't have the personal history—or, indeed, the moral right—to use the African American experience in this way. Are you sensitive to this position? How do you respond to it?

I am very aware of the controversy between African American writers and white writers writing in black voices. I am extremely sympathetic to the views of writers like Toni Morrison and August Wilson, and I perfectly understand their position and think that, were I an African American, I may well feel as they do. I never intended to write in a black voice, but the first story I published was in the voice of an African Amercian girl. The story is called "Peddling Day" and was published in Maryland Review. I began writing it with a white protagonist as I was recalling going peddling in McComb, Mississippi, with my grandmother. But halfway through the story, I heard the voice of Katie and realized that this voice was not mine, but that of a black child. Another story which later became a chapter in Right As Rain was originally a short story called "White Sugar and Red Clay," which was published in Xavier Review. The same scenario occurred while I was writing this story. It was about an incident in my father's early life in which he had had to shoot his own dog after it had killed a beagle and its puppies. Suddenly, the child was speaking in an African American voice and I had to rewrite the story accordingly. Certainly, I cannot understand the pain of being an African American in the South, either during the era I wrote about, or even today. However, I can understand pain, rejection, humiliation, the range of human emotion that I have personally experienced, and I have tried my best to convey the hearts and minds of these black characters with love, tenderness, and compassion.

In my first novel, Walking Through Shadows, I wrote about a deformed, slow-witted, abused young woman. I have not experienced abuse nor thankfully have I suffered as that character did in the novel, and yet many people wrote to me saying that I had captured the heart of victims like Sheila. I hope that in Right As Rain, those who have suffered prejudice and atrocities will accept and perhaps even embrace my attempt to tell their stories.

Q:Do you see yourself as a Southern writer, a woman writer . . . or just a writer?

I am a writer, a woman, a Southerner. I have lived from the East Coast to the West Coast of this country and in England for several years, and no matter where I lived, I was always readily identifiable as a Southerner. I frankly could care less whether I'm labeled as a Southern Writer, a Woman Writer, or a Writer. I just want to be a GOOD writer!

Q:Your novel tells a big story-race in modern America-through a lot of little stories: the personal stories of your characters, which unfold at an unhurried yet captivating pace, through multiple points of view. Did you plan to write the novel in this way, or did it just happen? How much do you know about how your books are going to be structured, who the characters are, and what the plot is going to be, before you start writing, and how much comes to you during the writing process?

I co-authored a custom text book for Southeastern Louisiana University, and I chose the title, Acts of Discovery, because to me writing is discovery. No matter whether it's a college essay, a letter, or a novel, we discover as we write. I wrote Walking Through Shadows in first-person voice with one point of view, discovered it didn't work, and then threw out over 200 pages and rewrote it in multiple points of view. When I set out to write Right As Rain, I wasn't even sure it would become a novel, and the first version of this short story that got out of hand was 631 pages long. As I wrote, I discovered another story, another voice, another twist in the plot.

The characters lead me; for the most part, I follow them. I think of each of my novels as a charm bracelet. I begin with only the bare chain: there are all of these holes that can be filled with a character or an event, and I add a charm, one character or one event, then I connect another charm to the bracelet, and so on, until I've reached the clasp and know that my bracelet is complete. That's when I begin to rewrite, polish those charms, take one off, exchange it for something better, until I'm satisfied that I've done my best.

Q:One of the things that amazed me the most about Right as Rain is that you use so many point-of-view characters, get inside the heads of so many different people, male and female, adult and child, black and white, and yet every single one of them is completely distinct and unique. How do you imagine yourself into so many kinds of people, and keep them all straight?

This amazes me too, and I wish I could take credit for it, but the fact is that I hear those voices. I'm not schizophrenic (at least, I'm not on medication), but I do actually hear the voices as I write. Sometimes when they're all talking at once, I'm pretty interesting to live with, but mercifully, I generally only hear one at a time.

Q:When did you first know that you were a writer, and how did you know?

When I was in my thirties, I took a creative writing class at Christopher Newport College in Newport News, Virginia. Jay Paul, a wonderful poet and teacher, wrote in my evaluation that I had written some of the best stories he'd ever received in the class, and when I read that, I finally knew that I was a writer. Before that, I considered it a hobby, something I had to do that I loved. I compared it to my husband's love of golf, outlets for our passions. I hadn't realized that I actually had any real talent for it until this kind man typed that generous praise on my evaluation slip.

I think he's also partly responsible for my teaching writing, forming writing groups, and championing young writers every chance I get. Even though I had published several short stories and essays, I didn't consider myself a novelist until again another excellent writer and teacher, Douglas Glover, read a partial draft of Right As Rain during the New York State Summer Writers Institute. When I met him, the first question he asked me was could I quit my teaching job and finish the novel, because he loved it and believed it should be published. The incredible author and teacher, Nicholas Delbanco, seconded his opinion of my work, and I needed this kind of affirmation to keep going in the face of rejection from agents and editors at that time.

Q:Who are some of the writers who influenced you?

When I was in junior high school, I worked in the library and began reading all of Charles Dickens, and then I dove into Tolstoy and swam right on through John Galsworthy and Sir Walter Scott. Much later I fell in love with the work of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, Katherine Anne Porter. Then came Alice Walker, Alice Munro, Ernest Gaines, Toni Morrison. Clyde Edgerton's first book, Raney, led me to think I could write Southern fiction, and I read Barry Hannah's Airships and was hooked. Larry Brown, Reynolds Price, Ellen Gilcrest, Lee Smith, William Gay, Brad Watson, oh, so many wonderful, wonderful masters of fiction, I hate to mention only a few. I continue to learn from them all.

Q:Every writer has a different path to publication. What was yours?

I fell in love with two women: Lisa Bankoff at ICM and Emily Heckman. I would walk through fire for either of them, as I believe I owe any success I have had or will ever have to them. And I think I'm going to be saying the same thing about Maureen O'Neal at Ballantine, who is the editor for Right As Rain.

Q:One of my favorite characters in Right as Rain is Tee Wee's daughter, Crow. She is feisty, determined, and smart . . . all qualities that put her in some danger in her time and place. Can you talk a little bit about Crow, and her evolving relationship with Browder, the son of the white family that employs her mother?

As I said earlier, I had written a short story about Crow that just didn't work. I didn't know much about her really, and when I began writing Rain, she danced back into the story. Of all the characters I have created, Crow is the one I find most interesting, and I think it's because she has all of those qualities you mention. I've always admired women who know what they want, go after it, and get it. My mother was a great example of a woman who didn't expect or accept failure, and she accomplished a great deal in her life even though she was an invalid for nearly half of her time on earth.

She instilled in me the belief that one didn't have to accept the status quo, that just about any problem has a solution. Some who read the novel may think that Crow doesn't get what she wants when Browder tells her that his wife is pregnant and that he can't marry her, but I believe that Crow is the phoenix who rises out of ashes. Her song will continue to be heard while Browder will live in silent unhappiness. Browder was the last point of view I added. He hadn't spoken to me, and I wrote most of the novel despising him for his weakness, but eventually, I came to understand his passion for Crow, his obsession, addiction. Then Crow's and my heart softened, and we both fell in love with him despite his shortcomings, and I rewrote another hundred or so pages to allow them those brief moments of happiness.

Q:Your dialogue is so spot-on that I can't help asking if you've ever written plays or movie scripts—perhaps adaptations of Right as Rain or Walking Through Shadows.

I wouldn't have the faintest notion of how to write a play or a script. I would, however, love to be on the stage or the screen mimicking all those voices. I see author readings as performances, and I love to read to audiences.

Q:What's next from Bev Marshall?

I can't predict what's next. Ballantine will publish my next novel, and I can, however, tell you what choices we'll have. I have completed and am revising another novel, Dear Reda Rose, about a homely girl who writes post cards to soldiers during World War II and suddenly becomes popular when a training camp is set up near her home town. I am currently working on another novel, Unanswered Prayers, which is a coming-of-age story that begins with a thirteen-year-old girl named Layla Jay whose mother marries a revival preacher. I also have a collection of short fiction that's quite eclectic and have written a guide for setting up and maintaining a writers group. And I'm hoping someone will ask me to read Crow's dialogue on a New York stage!!
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Reading Group Guide

1. Right as Rain follows Tee Wee and Icey’s friendship from their first meeting until the scene between them at the end of the novel. While they love and support each other, theirs is a relationship fraught with competition. In one scene their anger incites them to an actual physical battle. Is this friendship realistic? How does it compare to the relationships of modern women?

2. What impact does the civil rights movement have on each of the characters, especially the African-American characters? How would their lives differ today had they been born post–civil rights movement?

3. The author of Right as Rain is white. However, the majority of the voices in the novel are those of African Americans. How well did she depict those voices? In what passages did she fail or succeed?

4. Many of the conversations between Ruthie and Dimple center on sex and religion. How do their views differ? To what do you attribute their dissimilar views on sexuality and God?

5. Crow is one of the most complex characters in Right as Rain. She is determined to leave Parsons Place and, after the death of her cat, vows never to love anyone or anything. Yet, she falls in love with Browder,
seemingly against her will. How and why does she recant her earlier feelings? Is this consistent with her character?

6. Much of Part Three is devoted to J.P.’s trial. Considering the era and J.P.’s race, did you expect the verdict to be guilty or not guilty? To what or whom do you attribute the verdict? Is it a realistic one?

7. Ruthie’s relationship with Dennis is problematic throughout the novel. Trace the development of that relationship beginning in high school. Why did Ruthie marry Dennis? What factors contributed to her staying in an abusive relationship for so many years?

8. The mother-daughter relationships in Right as Rain differ greatly between the African Americans and the Parsonses. Characterize and contrast the interaction between Tee Wee and Crow and Mrs. Parsons and Ruthie.

9. Browder’s obsession with films and Crow begins in puberty. Yet he marries Missy and takes over the farm after his father dies. Do you see
Browder as a weak character or do you consider his actions noble?
Why? Would his relationship with his father change if the novel were set in recent times and, if so, in what ways?

10. At the end of the novel Icey and Tee Wee have become business partners. Do you think this partnership will succeed? Why? What do you foresee happening between them as they grow older?

11. If Crow had told Browder about her pregnancy, how would he have reacted to this news?

12. The bond between Ruthie and Tee Wee is sustained throughout the novel. Trace the development of their relationship from Ruthie’s childhood to J.P.’s going-away party. How does their relationship change?
How does it remain constant?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2014

    Too much immorality in this book for me.

    Too much immorality going on throughout the whole book. I believe a great story can be written without all of that going on throughout the book. I did however like the characters and the way the writer used language and expression in her characters.

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  • Posted October 13, 2011


    This is Bev Marshall's best. Will make you laugh and cry.

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  • Posted March 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:


    I really enjoyed this book. It took me three weeks to finish this book not because I could not get into it from the start of the book, it was becuase I was so busy. From the start the book set you where the characters are and you become all of them or one of them, I felt that I was Crow my-self. I love her strong will from the start of her young life and I have a friend like Icey, with a deep down jealousy, but loved the way TeeWee handle her with love like a sister. The whole story just make you laugh, cry, just have all kinds of emotions. This should be a must reader for every young person today. To let them know how this america is.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2004

    Not A Critic, Just An Avid Reader

    Truely one of the best books I have ever read. I was raised in Mississippi during much of the same time period as the book. It is so on target. Wonderful characters, left me wanting more, more, more. This book would make a great movie.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2004


    An avid reader from Hammond, LA RIGHT AS RAIN reminded me so much of ROOTS! It would make a wonderful mini-series for TV. I so loved all of the characters: I especially loved reading the scenes between Tee Wee and Icey, their hilarious competition and yet they supported each other through all of their heartbreaking tragedies. Crow and Browder¿s sexual relationship just knocked me out. Silver people, not black and white! And how I ached for J.P. I couldn¿t read fast enough to find out what was going to happen at the trial. And then there was Ruthie, struggling with an abusive husband. She was a saint! So many marvelous characters, so many wonderful stories in this one book. This was the best book I read all year. Don¿t miss it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2004


    My daughter gave me a copy of RIGHT AS RAIN for Mother's Day, and it was one of the best gifts I've ever received. The novel brought back so many wonderful memories of my childhood. Marshall is a gifted author with the ability to paint such vivid pictures with her prose that reading a scene is like living it! The voices in the novel were so right on, black and white, adults and children, Marshall tackled them all beautifuly. I couldn't believe it when I saw on the book jacket that she's a white writer. Her understanding and sympathy for the plight of African Americans during the civil rights era showed in every line. Thank you, Bev Marshall for this wonderful gift. Can't wait for your next one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews

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