Desperately seeking Azy

The Father of Rain
by Martin West

Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2023
$22.95 / 9781772142105

Reviewed by Bill Paul


During the mid-1970s in the conservative Fraser Valley farming town of Abbotsford, Cirrus’s mother, Marjorie, and his father disappear within sixteen months of each other. An unexplainable and unusual occurrence, no doubt about it. Seventeen-year-old Cirrus is naturally puzzled and left feeling “bereft, besieged and obsessed.” Over a period of several years and to the shock and surprise of his younger brother and his mother’s parents (who believed their daughter Marjorie “was distracted by the strange”), Cirrus gradually falls into a life of excessive drug use, random violence, and sadomasochistic, nothing-is-off-limits sexual liaisons with a dominatrix named Azy (otherwise known as Mistress A).

Cirrus is the protagonist, the all-knowing narrator of Victoria-born Martin West’s second novel, The Father of Rain. He’s a cynical, brash anti-hero moving through an eerie, gothic landscape. In this paranormal world, Cirrus is able to rescue himself from a dilapidated building by bending a steel bar and, on another occasion while standing in the near darkness of Azy’s basement suite, witness a woman suddenly turn into a six-foot wasp. The setting is a gloomy Lower Mainland immersed in fog and mist—a world where no one in authority (social workers, the police) can be trusted.

The action in the story focuses on Cirrus’s exhaustive search for his parents. Not only does Cirrus have supernatural abilities but we also learn of his preoccupation and fascination with the perverse:

I could not defecate until I had finished the daily search grid, nor think of the blonde who played basketball on the new, shiny gym floor. Twenty pine needles had to be ingested whole per day, and each and every skid mark that blackened our hot country road had to be both sniffed and licked to ensure they contained no trace of my missing parent.

Similar to some of the characters in West’s 2016 short story collection, Cretacea & Other Stories from the Badlands, characters in this novel struggle with uncontrollable obsessions and sexual fantasies, participating in rites and rituals that turn into ultra-violent, cartoon-like mayhem. What torments Cirrus is less the disappearance of his parents and more his unrelenting sexual hunger and morbid inquisitiveness. In his mission to find out what happened to his missing parents Cirrus discovers “the pleasure of not knowing how life might turn out.”

Author Martin West

The Father of Rain is a loosely plotted novel. West’s writing style is dense and digressive, a catalogue of lurid anecdotes, invented history, and obscure information ( eg, details about the life span of stick insects and pine beetles). Despite having complicated back stories, the characters verge on caricature.

The main part of the story starts in 1981 when Cirrus moves to Vancouver. By this time he’s a twenty-one year old pothead with an encyclopedic knowledge of hallucinatory drugs working at the Department of the Environment filing printouts of pine beetle excrement for local forestry agencies.

He plans to enrol at the University of British Columbia and study “bugs… exoskeletal creatures,” claiming he’s interested in the nature of insects and their “complete indifference to suffering.” Gradually Cirrus’s compulsive behaviours, sexual longing, and his complete indifference to suffering lead him to Azy’s basement suite; the cavernous space is fitted with themed rooms adorned with “leather straps and wooden paddles with holes in the centre, chrome spurs and shackles with iron thorns.”

What stitches the novel together is a series of menacing and exaggerated encounters and escapades Cirrus has with strangers (the Major), friends (Sally), his grandmother, the police (Detective Fielding) and his master (Azy). The story picks up pace when Cirrus begins carousing with his former high school friend, Russell. Russell is a part-time criminal skilled at break and enters, a bully turned loser whose gaze is “transfixed on the desert of gravel alleys and telephone wires.” 

The author is at his best describing his characters adrift in the city, seeking solace in the working-class neighbourhoods of pre-Expo 1986 Vancouver:

The alleys of South Vancouver were a deep and humic affair. Black coffee dirt percolated through layers of lichen , compost and grates. Fences were overgrown with ivy that cascaded down into drains plugged with Pixy-Stix. Everything reeked of decomposing grass except when punctuated by a riff of Acapulco Gold. Azy’s house was supposed to be the seventh one from the corner, but I kept losing count. The back lots had all grown together in one continuous centipede of laurel. A hemlock gate with a hand hole made itself known, and so I tucked the pathetic relic of my parent’s demise into a paper bag and pulled the string. The yard was maudlin: a wheelbarrow overturned, a flooded fish pool. Strips of moss peeled off the door and a tea towel hung over the glass for a curtain… I knocked crisply five times. The towel was ripped aside, and a dark face glared through the glass from a cold kitchenette.

The story is a free-wheeling blend of black comedy, magic realism and melodrama; it’s a collage of unsettling set pieces and unsympathetic characters.

Nonetheless, Cirrus, Sally, and the Major do form a curious, like-minded community. In a 2016 interview with the Calgary Herald, West talked about his fiction and said “the same themes of eroticism …. keep coming up all the time.” In its own idiosyncratic way the novel, despite its sci-fi, fantasy trappings, portrays how each character finds a kind of comfort in pursuing their own secret erotic fantasies.


East Vancouverite Bill Paul enjoys photography and reading fiction and non-fiction. [Editors note: Bill Paul has also reviewed books by Dietrich Kalteis, Suzannah Showler, Curtis LeBlanc, Patrick deWitt, Barbara Fradkin, Dietrich Kalteis, Stan Rogal, Keath Fraser, and John Farrow, and contributed a photo-essay, Trevor Martin’s Vancouver, to BCR.]


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an online book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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