Right after the Weather by Carol Anshaw
The characters are convincingly drawn, complete with quirks, flaws, and credible back stories, as are the web of relationships between them. But what of the weather? Carol Anshaw documents the sunshine, breezes and showers of ordinary lives amid the shockwaves of a political and personal tsunami. Cate’s Chicago community is devastated by the results of the 2016 election, but there’s another trauma waiting backstage, foreshadowed by first-person passages from Nathan, a disturbing drug addict living in Neale’s neighbourhood. When Cate surprises him attacking Neale in her kitchen, she’s introduced to a side of herself she’d rather have not had the chance to meet.
The assault irrevocably alters the weather between the two friends, yet this novel seems to be less about the aftermath of trauma than about the constancy of change. Fiction might impose a pattern, but this novel is more faithful to the randomness of real life. That, along with fine prose, made it a welcome read for me (I found the politics more painful than the attack), although I suspect it will prove less memorable than one with a stronger narrative arc. Thanks to publishers Fig Tree for my review copy.
Weather by Jenny Offill
Lizzie is a mother, librarian, wife and chronic worrier. When the anxiety levels drop in relation to her family – especially her recovering addict brother and her young son adapting to a school of Brobdingnagian proportions – there’s plenty to preoccupy her in the outside world. Trump, the climate crisis and the overall atmosphere of impending doom. So why does she add to her burden by agreeing to manage the mailbox of her former mentor, now famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water?
Composed of tight paragraphs scrubbed of extraneous detail, it’s a quick read with a mix of humour and depth, and scattered with survivalist tips which the reader might want to squirrel away for the apocalypse. Written and published before our current crisis – rendering the author as much ahead of the game as her fictional podcaster – it seems both startlingly familiar and a time-travelling trip to more innocent times. But the message – if fiction can ever be said to have a message – is consistent with my mood when I read it as manifest in recent blog posts: fit your own mask before helping others if you don’t want to disappear down the rabbit hole! And readers can go to her website for tips on how we lily-livered types can take action: obligatory note of hope. Thanks to British publishers Granta books for my review copy.
After an extremely wet winter, we’ve had no rain here on this rainy island for several weeks – apart from ten minutes early this morning – and, sadly, some of the orchids in our garden meadows are struggling. But, on a brighter note, an especially sharp frost brought an extra ripple of joy to my early-morning walk last week. Gardeners here know to expect frosts up until the end of May, but I’ve never noticed iced buttercups and dandelion clocks before. Luckily I had my phone to prove it to Mr A who’s still abed at that time of the morning.
How’s the weather – emotional, meteorological, political – where you are right now? Would either of these novels suit your mood?