Book Review for “Right After the Weather” by Carol Anshaw.
Cate is a theater set designer in Chicago, and in 2016 her career has hit a bumpy road, along with her love life, both of which she’s trying to repair. In the meanwhile, her ex-husband and his dog are camping out in the apartment he bought for her; she’s trying to avoid Dana, the woman she had an affair with, while attempting to make a relationship with another woman work. All this is the backdrop for a horrible incident involving Cate’s best friend, Neale. In a world where things are changing rapidly, including American politics, finding something steady is as difficult as expecting the weather to be unchangeable.
This is one of the books that the publicist for Fredrik Backman’s books offered me, when I asked if he’d be willing to answer my Countdown Questions (he apparently doesn’t do them when he’s writing a new novel). The other one was “The Women of the Copper Country,” which I’ve already reviewed here, and this book couldn’t be more different. First of all, although it certainly would be considered women’s fiction, it is also contemporary and LGBT fiction. While I have come to prefer historical fiction, I really have no problem reading good contemporary novels. As for the LGBT aspect, while this novel’s protagonist has come to realize that she is a lesbian, there’s not a whole lot of sex here, which I was happy about (since I dislike reading steamy sex scenes in general – straight or gay).
As for what I thought of this book, although in general, I liked it a good deal, I’m also a bit on the fence here. On the one hand, I really liked Anshaw’s prose a great deal. It is honest, open, and straightforward with some lovely dashes of humor, despite the fact that she describes what seems to be a very difficult time for Cate. In fact, what we get here is a third person character study of Cate, who is ultimately indefinable as a woman trying to find her way – through all the aspects of her life. Furthermore, there are many, really lovely descriptions of Cate’s set design work, how Cate chooses what she wants for a certain scene, what she’s trying to achieve, and why some things work better (or worse) than others. Of course, my being an ex-Chicagoan made me also enjoy the descriptions of the main setting there, and cringe at some of the descriptions of Cate’s visit to some seedier parts of New York (real Chicagoans hate NY, so anything that disses it is fine with me).
There’s also this “parallel universe” part which, thankfully, isn’t at all fantasy based. In fact, it is simply parts of the story devoted to the two real-life vagrants (for wont of a better word) who are the perpetrators of the violent incident visited upon Neale. Their sides of the story show up as indented text in a smaller font than the rest of the narrative to set them apart from Cate’s story. This technical mechanic works well, not only because it is visually distinctive, but also because Anshaw uses a much darker tone to her prose in these sections to describe their crimes and drug use and negative attitudes towards normal, civil society. They are, in a way, the embodiment of the metaphor of the weather in the title – a type of perfect storm that brews on the horizon, only to erupt and disrupt Cate life, and all those connected to Cate.
However, what had me on the fence here was that the climax of this story – the incident where these two violently, and literally come into Neale’s and Cate’s life (which is described as an assault in the blurbs of this book, so no spoilers here), felt less than explosive as it could have been. Yes, I get that Cate’s memory of the incident is partially blocked, since often the brain will try to exclude remembering traumatic situations, and that’s fine. However, this book was written in third person, and although I abhor graphic violence in novels (much like I despise graphic sex), I think that by using that POV, Anshaw could have allowed herself to be a bit more graphic with this scene, which would have made it more punchy for me. It just missed the “wow” factor by describing it as sketchily as she did here. In addition, although I also understand that this is a character study – which I happen to like – I also felt that the action after the home invasion fell slightly flat for me. While we understand that this is the part of the book where Cate has to work through her feelings about her own instinctive actions when she finds the intruders attacking Neale, and she uses her work to try to avoid this, the parallel that I think Anshaw was trying to express here didn’t feel as evenly written as it could have been. I wish I could put my finger on what Anshaw could have done to fix this, but I’m afraid I can’t.
Like I said, I’m a bit on the fence here, but I think I’m still going to recommend this book, since I think Anshaw’s writing is very accessible and highly enjoyable to read, even if the action is somewhat on the weak side. For this, I think I’ll give it three and a half stars out of five, mostly because it certainly made me want to see what else Anshaw has written, which is always a good thing!
Atria Books released “Right After the Weather” by Carol Anshaw on October 1, 2019. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), Wordery or The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank Ariele Fredman of Atria Books for inviting me to read this ARC via NetGalley.