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On the morning of Rebecca’s departure to an important conference, her husband surprises her – putting it mildly – by admitting to having been unfaithful with one of Rebecca’s students. She is hurt. She is angry. She is not at all her normal rational self. Enter Vince, and life as Rebecca knows it will never be quite the same again.
We have all, I suppose, experienced “human solar systems”. You know, groups of people who orbit round a self-evident pivot, a person in whose light they all want to bask. This person is generally one of the “it” people. Popular, charming, quite often handsome as well, this is the person all those circling hangers-on want to emulate – in one way or the other.
Vince has IT. In spades. He has bright blue eyes and hair he has dyed black to make him look more like a certain Mr Darcy. To further the resemblance, Vince also speaks with a British accent despite being from Boston, and by now he has almost managed to convince himself he is British, having created an entire backstory that has him enrolling in the London School of Arts before ending up in Vermont. An extremely talented artist, Vince is also a charismatic individual, attracting quite the following of both men and women who find him totally irresistible. Vince is the star at the centre of the Vince universe, and all his little satellites whirl around him, eager for his light, his affection.
Marty wants to look like Vince. Jenn is impressed by Vince. Steve gladly hangs out with Vince. Viv is in love with Vince, and Ralph loves Vince. Our magnet guy is mainly in love with his art – and himself – but is not above using his physical appeal to further his artistic career. Which is why he sleeps regularly with Ralph, who sort of bankrolls Vince’s existence.
Ralph is a closet homosexual, living in constant fear that his conservative parents will revoke the generous trust funds he lives off should they find out his little secret. Enter Lilly, Ralph’s athletic wife who charms the pants off Ralph’s parents and has a tendresse for a lady called Stacy.
And then there is Steve, presently trying to survive the breakup with Anna. We have Jenn, an up and coming writer who sees Vince as her muse, and Steve as her experiment. There are the oddly disparate twins Mary and Marty – Mary’s entire life is a dream in pink, while poor Marty plods along in an existence best described as grey, no matter how much he tries to look like dashing Vince. It doesn’t exactly help that Marty’s girlfriend, Viv, has the hots for Vince.
Rebecca knows nothing about Vince or his little group of human satellites when she ends up in bed with him at that so important conference. All she knows is that she is hurting, and here is a handsome young man who speaks Jane Austen English and woos her with poetic language, and a single-minded attention that makes her feel as if she’s the only woman on the planet. And she has no idea that this one night of passion indirectly sets in motion a creative surge that will lead to two artistic masterpieces, several crushed lives, an immense conflagration, and a new beginning.
While Vince sets out to seduce her, he did not expect to fall so hard for this woman ten years his senior – and even less did he expect her to be the one to break things off. Rejection is not something Vince is used to, and the resulting emotions cause him to create a work of art that has one single purpose: to bring Rebecca back to him.
Well, dear readers, there you have it: the stage is set, and Permanent Spring Showers goes on to deliver quite the emotional roller-coaster as all these relationships overlap, gnaw at each other and collide. Permanent Spring Showers is not only about human relationships, it is also about art – and the cost it comes with. Frustrated, ambitious Jenn wants to create an entire new literary genre, and in her dedicated approach to her goal, she is happy to walk all over her friends, invading their privacy, manipulating their reactions, and high-fiving herself when things go just how she has planned them – despite the emotional cost to the people involved. Jenn is a taker – she sucks her friends dry without even noticing it. Or maybe she does, but if so she doesn’t care. Jenn is all about her opus.
Vince, on the other hand, is at times as narcissistic, as single-minded – but he does care for people, and he is more than aware of his capacity to break people’s hearts right, left and centre, so he issues explicit warnings to those who drool all over him. Ultimately, he will use them – but he blows his horn before he runs them over, and he is deeply insulted when Rebecca calls him a “leech”. Vince, you see, is on a mission to elevate the humdrum lives of all the people around him by creating magnificent art, pictures that will speak to the soul and release the goodness within. Such a mission does not go hand in hand with being called a leech…
The story is told through multiple POVs – ten at my last counting. Each of these POVs has been gifted with a distinctive voice – in itself an achievement – and to further complicate things, Mr Southard leaps between third person and first person, between snippets from Jenn’s WIP novel, to Jenn’s entries in her diary (always, rather entertainingly, addressed to one of Jenn’s literary heroes). He manages all this with impressive elegance, dragging the reader along through a story as multi-layered as an onion.
What I really liked was how Mr Southard approaches his characters. They are presented as they are, and the reader is allowed to like them or dislike them as they please – the author does not predispose us towards one or the other, he merely depicts.
As the book progresses, many of the protagonists grow on you. Ralph, for example, quickly expands from a caricatured rich boy to a tormented soul, a man who lives locked up in himself and is quickly reaching breaking point. Steve is for the most part sane, Jenn is mostly crazy, and Bob, Rebecca’s husband, just doesn’t have a clue – not even when he spends hours staring at Vince’s magnificent mural which depicts his naked wife in the throes of passion. A clear case of seeing what one wants to see, so to say…
And as to Vince, this somewhat flawed but so talented man is saved by his introspection. Vince knows what he is, what drives him and what he wants to achieve. He is ashamed of how he treats some of the people around him, but does not perceive he has a choice. For Vince, life is all about art. Even when things literarily go up in flames around him, Vince does not see the destruction – he sees the opportunity for even greater art. Ironically, he has no idea that he may have created more than he counted on – and no, I will not clarify further.
Mr Southard has written a complicated, twisting story and the fact that he succeeds in bringing it all together is testament to his significant writing skills. All those POVs do now and then result in POV slippages, but all in all, Mr Southard has his various creations under tight control – and what an impressive array of characters he presents us with! Add to this fast-paced dialogue, excellent description and a gift for peppering his text with humoristic observations of the day-to-day, and you have a novel that is at times challenging but always rewarding. Very rewarding.
Permanent Spring Showers can be found on Amazon.
About the author
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Scott D. Southard is the author of A Jane Austen Daydream, My Problem With Doors, Megan, and other works of literary fiction. His eclectic writing has also found its way into radio, as Scott was the creator of the radio comedy series The Dante Experience. He received his Master's in writing from the University of Southern California. Scott can be found on the internet via his writing blog “The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" (sdsouthard.com) where he writes on topics ranging from writing, art, books, TV, writing, parenting, life, movies, and writing. He even shares original fiction on the site. Scott is also the fiction book reviewer for WKAR's daily radio show Current State.
Anna Belfrage is the author of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. The first book in her next series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, was published on November 1, and is set in the England of the 1320s. Anna can be found on amazon, twitter, facebook and on her website.