In Father of the Rain, Lily King explores why we stay in relationships that seem counterproductive and why we leave them. Daley’s father is an alcoholic, a behaviour easily sustained in the heavy-social-drinking small town where he lives. Her mother stays too long with him but does leave and takes Daley with her. As a conflicted daddy’s girl, Daley literally and emotionally seesaws between her parents. She never quite abandons one to fully support the other in the never-ending low-scale guerilla war between the two households.
Her older brother left home before his parents split, and he remains emotionally uncommitted to his family despite occasionally paying cursory visits. As an adult, Daley has perfected detachment. Her mother’s sudden death causes a rift in Daley’s relationship her father, although her father is clueless about the reason for it, even when Daley confronts him with her hurt.
Pursuing anthropology has been successful for Daley, and as the novel opens, she is on her way to UCLA Berkley for a tenured position. But much to the dismay of her devoted lover, Jonathan, she decides to take a brief side-trip to visit her father after many years of alienation.
Daley wants her father to become sober; her father wants Daley to take care of him. So begins a symbiosis that befuddles both Daley’s friends and her father’s friends. Why has Daley embarked on such a hopeless quest? Why has her father agreed to such socially awkward abstinence in a community that socializes over liquour? And, who will crack first? Because no one but Daley thinks this is going to work.
Over time, community is what saves her, and she learns much about herself as a part of community. By casting Daley as an anthropologist studying children in community, Lily King veils the whole story with a delicate and delightful irony. The deft handling of strained relationships is what makes Father of the Rain such a good novel.