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An exuberant debut that sweeps across the twentieth century--beginning where one world-famous love story left off to introduce us to another
With Sophie Tucker belting from his hand-crank phonograph and a circle of boarding-school admirers laughing uproariously around him, Ben "Trouble" Pinkerton first appears to us through the amazed eyes of his Blaze Academy schoolmate, the crippled orphan Woodley Sharpless. Soon Woodley finds his life inextricably linked with this strange ...
An exuberant debut that sweeps across the twentieth century--beginning where one world-famous love story left off to introduce us to another
With Sophie Tucker belting from his hand-crank phonograph and a circle of boarding-school admirers laughing uproariously around him, Ben "Trouble" Pinkerton first appears to us through the amazed eyes of his Blaze Academy schoolmate, the crippled orphan Woodley Sharpless. Soon Woodley finds his life inextricably linked with this strange boy's. The son of Lieutenant Benjamin Pinkerton and the geisha Madame Butterfly, Trouble is raised in the United States by Pinkerton (now a Democrat senator) and his American wife, Kate. From early in life, Trouble finds himself at the center of some of the biggest events of the century--and though over time Woodley's and Trouble's paths diverge, their lives collide again to dramatic effect.
From Greenwich Village in the Roaring Twenties, to WPA labor during the Great Depression; from secret work at Los Alamos, New Mexico, to a revelation on a Nagasaki hillside by the sea--Woodley observes firsthand the highs and lows of the twentieth century and witnesses, too, the extraordinary destiny of the Pinkerton family.
David Rain's The Heat of the Sun is a high-wire act of sustained invention--as playful as it is ambitious, as moving as it is theatrical, and as historically resonant as it is evocative of the powerful bonds of friendship and of love.
"A wildly audacious and compellingly written book… Reading The Heat of the Sun is like watching an author keep daring himself to take higher and higher hurdles and clearing them every time; he creates dizzying effects, both in his web of plot twists and in the prism of twentieth-century history through which he tells his story." –Opera News Magazine
"An explosive story of friendship . . . a sensitive, intelligent snapshot of a watershed moment in our country’s history. . . Rain’s worthy novel is a touching, often searing tale of friendship, betrayal and love. His flawed characters are staggering beneath the weight of the past, which they carry like burdens even beyond the book’s chilling, operatic conclusion." — BookPage
"There are passages in the novel that have a heartbreaking beauty worthy of Puccini’s music." –The Washington Post
"What happened to the characters in Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly after Cio-Cio-San’s suicide? Australian author Rain imagines some answers in . . . [a first novel that is] dramatic, even operatic, and an engaging read." — Booklist
"Rain, who’s ‘far too young to be writing this exquisitely’ (Bookbag), imagines what happened to the son of Madame Butterfly, Puccini’s eponymous heroine." – Library Journal
"[The] characters and a sense of tragedy evoke American authors Fitzgerald and Styron, yet Rain’s outsider worldview enriches rather than dulls the narrative, particularly in sequences set in Pacific Rim Asia and others involving the Bomb. The author masterfully weaves Madame Butterfly through the 20th century, assuring that the connections never read as coincidences or plot devices." – Publisher’s Weekly
"A remarkable debut that reinvents, elaborates and extends into the late 20th century the story Puccini made famous in Madama Butterfly.
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."
“This fantastic story swirls around an irresistibly charismatic ‘bad boy’ whose odyssey of self-definition pulls the whole world in its wake. Like the historical epochs and episodes it weaves into a mesmerizing puzzle, The Heat of the Sun is by turns wildly colorful and strait-laced, witty and rueful, reserved and operatic. David Rain's clever mixture of fact and famous fiction puts a new spin on the ‘butterfly effect.’”
—Andrew Solomon, National Book Award winner and author of New York Times bestseller The Noonday Demon
"The more I read The Heat of the Sun, the more I admired it: for its imaginative reach, its emotional power, and the lit-up beauty and exactitude of its writing. I thought it breathtakingly good."—Sue Gee, author of The Mysteries of Glass
"David Rain's striking debut novel manages the audacious feat of burying its soul of romantic tragedy inside a story of great theatrical invention and whimsy. The result is wholly original, and a lot of fun. Read it and the 20th Century may never look the same to you again."—John Burnham Schwartz, author of Reservation Road and The Commoner
“David Rain is far too young to be writing this exquisitely. . . Pinkerton is glamour encapsulated. . . .The scope of the book is vast . . .from the early 1920s, through to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. . . . The whole is a story about the universal search for love and for self, set at a time when there was less freedom to do either of those things. . .There isn’t so much an echo of Scott Fitzgerald in these pages as a gentle background refrain that hauntingly lingers at the edges of every page.”— The Bookbag, UK
In Havana before the revolution, I sat one afternoon on a hotel terrace, playing chess with an elderly gentleman who had struck up my acquaintance. Something about him was familiar. He was the type of American who seems almost British: leisured, with a patrician voice and perfect manners. A cravat, red as blood, burgeoned at his neck; his suit was crisp, immaculately white, and he studied the board with eyes blue and gleaming as the tropical sea. He said he had lived in the hotel for ten years. He called himself an exile. Fondly, he spoke of New York City and asked me what had changed. Imagining some sorrow of the heart had compelled him to leave, I hoped to hear his story, but he would not be drawn. Only later did I realize he was a financier, known in his glory days as the Emperor of Wall Street, who had perpetrated a fraud that had ruined thousands of investors. I wondered if he really thought he could never go home. He had served his sentence, paid his debts: The face that had sold a million newspapers would be anonymous now. Only a species of vanity kept him in his Cuban fastness, dreaming of Carnegie Hall and the Palm Court at the Plaza.
Some years ago in San Francisco I attended a production of Puccini’s Tartarin. The opera, you will recall, is based on a novel by Alphonse Daudet. In the figure of Tartarin, the provincial braggart who is Don Quixote and Sancho Panza united in a single man, there is an allegory of the clash between fantasy and reality and the comedy that results from their irreconcilable claims. In a neighboring box sat a divorcée (long neck nobly poised) who had been notorious not so long before. She caused no sensation; those around her were blithe, as was she, while the young man who accompanied her might never have known that her name had been a byword for womanly corruption.
Scandal seldom endures. In the days when I still took on journalism, I covered a trial in Hong Kong. A Chinese houseboy had murdered his lover, but this was no commonplace affair, given that the lover had been male, English, a nephew of the assistant colonial secretary, and betrothed to the governor’s daughter. Inevitably, the boy was condemned to hang. Flashbulbs blazed; the judge’s gavel pounded; the governor’s daughter broke into hysterical execration; but even this crime of passion, I reflected, would soon mean little to the world at large. Ours is an age of amnesia. This is a mercy. Yet certain scandals refuse to vanish.
For a time I believed that the Pinkerton affair would be forgotten. Its day had been dazzling: I had illumined it myself. Perhaps in used bookstores you may still turn up Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton: A Life by Woodley A. Sharpless (New York: Harper & Row, 1947). It is not a good book. That my first essay in the biographer’s art should have been so rushed and dishonest a production has been a source of regret to me, although, of course, in those days the full story could never have been told. Whitewash was wanted, and whitewash I provided: I was too good a publicist to be a good writer.
Unfortunately, my distortions found their way into subsequent accounts. With Pinkerton: Enigma and Truth by Marius Brander (London: Gollancz, 1953), we need not concern ourselves. Promising much and delivering little, the book is a cut-and-paste from contemporary press reports, not to mention the work of a certain Woodley A. Sharpless.
Miriam Riley Vetch’s biography of Kate Pinkerton, Senator’s Wife (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), caused outrage in Democrat circles. That Kate Pinkerton encouraged the suicide of her husband’s Japanese lover seems unlikely to me, nor can I believe that she acted as procuress for her admittedly promiscuous husband. The case against Mrs. Vetch may be stated succinctly if I declare that she would never have been permitted to set foot in Kate Pinkerton’s drawing room. Mrs. Vetch, however, was fortunate in her publicists. For a year she lectured coast to coast on the woman she insisted on calling, appallingly, “Kate”; there was talk of a movie (Yardley Urban was to play the lead), but the danger was averted, the public lost interest, and Mrs. Vetch moved on to her next project, a life of Julia Ward Howe that promised startling revelations.
No threat came from Webster M. Cullen’s Pinkerton, Japan, and the War in the Pacific (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968). Cullen is the college professor par excellence, substituting theory for fact, copiousness for judgment, and jargon for good English. His readers were few.
When I checked the school history books, I was relieved to see that the Pinkerton affair rated a cryptic mention, if any: hardly a story for the eyes of youth. By now I thought of it as my story and was by no means keen for it to be sniffed at and snickered over by those who could never understand it as I did. The whole business seemed buried as deep as the Teapot Dome scandal (that catastrophic blight on the reputation of President Harding), the Kellogg-Briand Pact, or the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.
Then came Burl Blakey’s novel The Senator (New York: Viking, 1974). Of a piece with Mr. Blakey’s other productions, this roman-à-clef of sex and corruption among America’s ruling classes was a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection and New York Times number-one bestseller. There is little point in castigating Mr. Blakey. He is a force of nature: One is only surprised that in his several careers as gambler, deep-sea fisherman, and lover of starlets and models, he should find time to produce his eight-hundred-page epics. The movie, starring Hayden Granger, Rosalind Magenta, and a floppy-haired Curtis Kincaid, Jr. (complete with purplish contact lenses) as the half-Japanese B. F. Pinkerton II, became the decade’s biggest box-office draw.
Today, there can be no hope that the Pinkerton affair will be forgotten. Perhaps there never was. When a man in high office dies, we are always a little alarmed, as if we had expected death to tread lightly around those elevated above the common fray. When his death is violent and trailing skeins of scandal, our alarm becomes excitement and can hardly be held in check. Had Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton been an obscure figure, his fate would have been shocking enough, but that so bleak a destiny should envelop a man so eminent lifted it to proportions of classical tragedy. What was the senator but the Great Man, brought low by his fatal flaw? A textbook case, out of A. C. Bradley!
He could have been president. Three times he put himself forward for the Democratic nomination: in 1920, when he lost, by a whisker, to James M. Cox; in 1928, when he lost (to the party’s later regret) to Alfred E. Smith; in 1932, when he lost, decisively this time, to Franklin D. Roosevelt. There were those who said that the senator never fulfilled his potential, and yet, while failing to attain the highest office, still he became a significant architect of national affairs. In the Wilson years it was Senator Pinkerton who laid the foundations for American policy in the Philippines; during the Republican hegemony of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, he remained a prominent figure; but it was under Roosevelt that he came into his own, playing a key role in foreign policy as America moved toward the Second World War. Many remember Senator Pinkerton advocating internment of Japanese Americans. The part he played in the Manhattan Project has been documented extensively. By the end he was one of President Truman’s closest advisers, and in the view of many it was the senator, more than any other man, who swayed Truman toward dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Pinkerton affair could be considered from many angles. The Manville connection was a story in itself. Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, son of a hotelier from Atlantic City, hardly seemed cut out for his exalted station. That he owed it to a fortunate marriage was never in doubt. The world might never have heard of B. F. Pinkerton had it not been for his father-in-law, the long-serving Senator Cassius Cornelius Manville (Democrat, New York), who saw in the handsome naval officer a substitute for the son he had lost in the Cuban campaign of 1898. The Manvilles, that great East Coast political family, hardly knew what a viper they took to their breasts in the young lieutenant from the USS Abraham Lincoln. Later, many would ask what sort of woman Kate Pinkerton (née Manville) must have been: a woman not only apprised from the first of her husband’s dubious past but one who connived for so long to conceal it, even taking the child of his previous union as her own. Later, she must have wondered if the boy’s Japanese mother achieved in death the victory she had been denied in life.
But I fear I slip into the tones of Mrs. Vetch.
Naturally, much coverage was devoted to the provenance and peculiar history of Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton II. “Trouble,” as he was known, was a figure shocking enough, considering only his crimes; when, added to these, came the truth about his birth, the mixture was explosive. Condemnation, like buckshot, spluttered in all directions. Some directed their greatest outrage at B. F. Pinkerton; others, at B. F. Pinkerton II. Conservatives declared that a traitor was a traitor—what more was there to be said? Liberals asked: What was the son but the victim of the father? What chance had the boy? With his blond American looks, Trouble could hardly have known he was half Japanese, the son of a geisha girl who had killed herself for love of his faithless father. The truth might have devastated him at any time; in the event, it was kept from him for so long that, when he learned it, he could hardly help going a little mad.
To others, the victim was neither Pinkerton II nor the hapless Japanese girl; the one to be pitied was the young Lieutenant Pinkerton, drawn into the seductive lure of the Orient. The Pinkerton affair, in this view, was a sort of moral Pearl Harbor: Yellow Peril striking again, with Pinkerton II a fitting symbol that East is East, West is West, and never the twain should meet.
Next year, to my astonishment, marks an anniversary: forty years since my story’s end. It is time to begin. I am an old man, and tired; sometimes I wish I could surge free of the past, like a Saturn V rocket, shedding stages on its way out of the atmosphere. Perhaps, in setting down my story, I will achieve some freedom from it. For years I refused to talk about the Pinkertons. But history cannot be left to Mr. Burl Blakey. This book will appear only after my death. I shall paint no monsters. I shall level no blame. My purpose is simply to tell the story: not the definitive story (for where is that to be found?) but the story as it appeared to me, from my first meeting with Trouble to the end of my association with his family, many years later. Perhaps the story is not mine to tell. In the lives of the Pinkertons, I was, I suppose, a bystander, but one well placed on more than one occasion to witness the unfolding of their story.
It is the saddest story I know. The ending is so out of proportion with the beginning. Yet for me that ending is implicit in every step that precedes it: that eternal moment when the atomic cloud, one summer’s morning, bloomed above the port of Nagasaki, where, many years before, a young man had dallied with a girl known as Butterfly.
Copyright © 2012 by David Rain
1. The story is written as a continuation of the narrative in Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfuly. How effective is the story in its translation as a novel? How does the structure of the novel as an opera affect your reading experience? Are there other elements in the novel that inextricably link it to the opera? What role does music play in the mood and setting of the scenes?
2. As much as the Pinkertons try to change the course of their past, the events in Nagasaki come back to haunt them. How much of a role does fate play in the characters’ lives? Do you think that people have their destinies laid out before them, or are we able to shape the outcome of our lives?
3. Trouble says that he lived in the wrong world when he was in America. What are the things that helped mold his identity? Do you think that we are the products of our nature or our upbringing?
4. Senator Pinkerton and his wife Kate try to construct perfect lives as public fi gures, yet it all comes crumbling down in the end. Are they sympathetic characters or are they solely motivated by their selfish desires? Do you believe that Kate Pinkerton really loved Trouble as her own son?
5. Kate and the Senator see Woodley as a big infl uence on Trouble, despite his own denial of the power of his influence. Describe the relationship between the two friends. How much of an effect does Woodley have on Trouble? On the Pinkertons as a whole?
6. Describe the relationship between Le Vol and Woodley. How does their friendship evolve throughout the course of the novel, and how do you think it might have changed had they not been interrupted in the graveyard? What does Woodley mean when he says, “Something, it seemed, had ended for us, or had never really begun?” How does their relationship compare to Woodley’s relationship with Trouble?
7. Woodley’s ashplant kept his leg weak throughout most of his life. How does he develop throughout the novel from his days as the crippled orphan? Are there other things in the novel that he had to let go of in order to achieve his full potential?
8. Madame Butterfly ended her own life with the concept of “die with honor when you can no longer live with honor.” Do Senator Pinkerton and Kate Pinkerton succeed in achieving honorable deaths as well?
9. The novel follows Trouble and Woodley from their boarding school days until their golden years. Despite their old age however, the men seem to maintain a certain boyish quality about themselves. Kate Pinkerton even states that “all men are boys.” Do you agree with this statement? What does it mean to be a man in the context of the novel?
10. We learn from the beginning of the story that Woodley keeps his silence about the Pinkerton affair until after his death. What does he achieve by divulging the story posthumously? Why do you think Woodley decides to keep the knowledge of Trouble’s survival a secret?
11. The idea of Nirvana is a recurrent theme in the novel. In the end of the book, we see that Trouble believes that “Nirvana’s got no lookout at all.” What does this mean? Do you think that Nirvana has a different meaning for each character in the novel? Do you think they reach theirs in the end?
Posted November 24, 2012
Often, I immediately go to my computer as soon as I finish a book in order to write a review that is fresh in my mind. With David Rain’s The Heat of the Sun, such was not the case. Rather, I wanted to spend a day or two of reflection over the tremendous novel I had just finished reading. From the first introduction of orphan Woodley A. Sharpless, to the next of his life-long friend (and, at times, nemesis), Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton II, ‘Trouble,’ I realized I was embarking upon an epic story. It is a story that spans monumental periods of time in history. There are places ranging from Greenwich Village during the Roaring 20’s and events like the Great Depression, to name a few, that make this novel nothing less than epic. Yet Mr. Rain writes like a seasoned pro with his insistent ability to spoon feed his reader with background in the beginning—Blaze Boarding School for Boys in Burlington, Vermont. It is there where Sharpless and Trouble’s lives connect and so the story begins. There is a third character, Le Vol, who plays somewhat of a supporting role throughout the story. However, Mr. Rain never wanders too far from the essence of his tale; the trials and tribulations of Sharpless and Trouble. They are two very diverse young men—Trouble, born into a life of privilege and Sharpless not nearly as fortunate. Trouble has all the characteristics of over abundance and petulance; yet, I found myself immediately drawn to his character. Mr. Rain struck a brilliant balance between charisma and bad boy in Trouble which allows the reader to recognize the depth and complexity of this character. Le Vol was repugnant to buy into any sort of affection for Trouble, but it did not persuade Sharpless to heed his warnings. Their connection was solid and a bond that would span many years beyond the Blaze School for Boys. As Mr. Rain settles into the telling of his tale, he weaves information of Trouble’s lineage—his father, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (Democratic Senator from New York) and his mother Kate Pinkerton. However, the reader soon learns Kate is not his biological mother, but the appropriate socialite (and politically correct) fit to be matched with Trouble’s father. Trouble’s real mother was a Japanese geisha of whom Pinkerton senior seeded Trouble’s life. There are tumultuous years—years that touch upon varied wrong-doings, but there are also years of pain, solitude and frustration for both Sharpless and Trouble. There are plot twists and turns that spotlight eyebrow raising moments as much as there are periods of satisfaction and triumph for these two characters. Throughout the story, however, there is an amazingly accomplished writer telling it. Mr. Rain has captured the true essence of writing in the sense that he has created a masterpiece of imagery, depth and range. The fact that The Heat of the Sun is David Rain’s debut novel is somewhat shocking to me. I honestly believe not only this body of work, but future endeavors will be stories that rest among that place reserved for some of the most notable authors. Truly, he is a 21st century novelist to pay attention to. Congratulations Mr. Rain. The Heat of the Sun is a stellar accomplishment and a story that is destined to be read by many. Quill Says: Jump in and feel “The Heat of the Sun”…Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.