The Long Dry

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Coffee House Press continues its admirable support of Welsh writer Cynan Jones. Having published two previous novels of his, THE DIG and EVERYTHING I FOUND ON THE BEACH, the Minneapolis-based independent publisher follows with THE LONG DRY, which was first released in Great Britain eleven years ago.

THE LONG DRY is a terse, moving novel about a farm family struggling to survive in modern-day Wales. The narrative follows the family’s fortunes over a 24-hour period in which the seemingly simple things that occur take on increasing complexity and power. Jones, who based some of his novel on the taped reminiscences of his late Gaelic-speaking grandfather, David Llewelyn Williams, has an uncanny knowledge of Welsh rural life: its joys and sorrows, rituals and superstitions, drawbacks and rewards. Jones also understands the way nature works: what it takes to cultivate the earth, raise ducks, sheep and cows, live in harmony with the changing seasons.

Gareth, the protagonist of THE LONG DRY, runs a farm which his father had purchased with the money he’d earned while working in a bank. Gareth’s wife Kate is a city girl, an ex-airline hostess who quit flying to wed him and take on the challenge of making the small farm a success. Gareth believes the key to their survival was expansion: buy an adjoining acre of land and sub-divide it, then sell the plots to house-builders.

The bank has promised to finance the project, but Kate knows there will be planning and political problems. One misstep and they could lose everything.

This conflict puts a strain on their already-shaky marriage: they still love each other but problems from the past-–a miscarriage, an affair–-have taken their toll. As for their children, the sturdy lad Dylan and the adorable little Emma are growing up well and happily, but because Jones is a writer with a tragic view of life, heartbreaking things are in store for them.

THE LONG DRY, like all of Jones’ work, has a resonance and a potency far beyond its size and telling. The author is a master at using the particulars of everyday life to illuminate what is universal about it.