The Time It Never Rained

by John J. Miller on January 26, 2010 · 2 comments

in Blog Posts

  • Sumo

Here’s my contribution to the list of ten great American conservative novels, published in the current issue of NR:

The Time It Never Rained, by Elmer Kelton (1973): To say that Elmer Kelton wrote “Westerns” is to confine him to a literary ghetto. He certainly participated in the genre and wasn’t ashamed to do so. Yet his greatest book, about a terrible drought in West Texas during the 1950s, is an unheralded classic — and a profoundly conservative story about the importance of self-reliance in the face of overwhelming odds. Charlie Flagg is a cantankerous rancher who suffers during the dry spell but refuses all offers of government assistance, to the puzzlement and even consternation of his neighbors. Libertarians like to say that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Kelton has Charlie proclaim it in his own regional idiom: “There was nothin’ new about that idea. It’s as old as mankind . . . the hope of gettin’ somethin’ for nothin’ or of getting more out of the pot than you put in it. Nobody’s ever made it work yet. Nobody ever will.” The Time It Never Rained overflows with this kind of homespun wisdom, but the book’s real pleasure lies in its vivid characters and their inevitable conflicts. Charlie and his wife can’t agree on what to have for dinner, in an ongoing battle that masks deeper fissures. Their son rejects ranch life, even though he could inherit the small operation they’ve built. Meanwhile, a Mexican-American boy looks to Charlie as a father figure. “I can’t write about heroes seven feet tall and invincible,” Kelton once said. “I write about people five feet eight and nervous.”

I’ve written about Kelton at greater length here.


  • Bill Bruni


    Recently read Mr. Kelton’s Biography-Sand Hills Boy. Never heard of him until his name was mentioned on “The Corner”.
    He gave the impresion that he was never much of a cowboy, but I felt in reality that he still had the ethos. His book was an easy read, prose spare and gave a good site picture.


  • Based on your review I bought the book and could not put it down. A bit of subtle Ayn Rand in there with a different setting. I’ve
    since read several other of his books.

    I tend to be a voracious and fast reader of both fiction and non-fiction. Usually I give no thought to the author and find myselflost in good reading. But Mr Kelton joins a small group of writers who evoked in me a strong feeling of wishing I could meet the writer and chat… In part because the feeling of being spoken to “personally” was jumping out of the pages.

    The others on my list that I can recall:
    C S Lewis
    G K Chesterton

    So, reading that Mr Kelton was no longer with us was sad.

    Good to see the correspondence from his son in The Corner.

    Best regards,

    Michael Lee
    Abbotsford, BC Canada

    PS: Our local library had quite a few of the Kelton
    novels. So, they did manage to cross the border.

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