I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Tornado Weather by Deborah E. Kennedy
Published by Flatiron Books on July 11th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Mystery & Detective, General, Small Town & Rural
Format: Electronic ARC
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Love is nothing but damage waiting to happen, collateral and otherwise.
Colliersville, Indiana is a struggling small town where everyone knows their neighbor. They don’t always have an accurate view of each other, but they’re like family: “familiar, maddening, easy to take for granted.” Community tensions flare when the owner of the local dairy farm fires all the local workers and replaces them with Mexican migrant workers. Long term residents resent their new neighbors. Suddenly, many locals are jobless and their predictable little town is filled with people they don’t recognize and who speak a language they don’t understand. By May, the dairy farm has been shut down by law enforcement and a five-year-old girl is missing. How much more can this small town take?
Life was loss. That was it. The big secret. Loss upon loss upon loss until it was hard to know if waking up the next day made any sense at all.
This seems to be my year of reading books with a bazillion characters! Each of the eighteen chapters is a different townsperson’s perspective: an investigative reporter working undercover to expose the dairy farm’s unethical practices, a racist militia man’s daughter, various people working low-wage jobs, a pill addict in rehab, a soldier, a police officer, the dairy farm CEO’s transgender teenager, and more. Daisy’s disappearance is on the periphery of everyone’s thoughts, but for the most part, everyone is just trying to make it through the never-ending days. The townspeople have theories about what happened to Daisy, but most of them are just as clueless as we are.
The people of Colliersville are tied together by vicinity, but they seem to be living in parallel to one another. Sometimes people seem to know more about what’s going on in their neighbor’s home than the people actually involved! One thing I loved about the structure is that you might form an opinion based on gossip in one chapter, but a later chapter gives you a different version of the story that might alter your original thinking. I also loved searching for the clues of how each person was connected to the larger community and discovering what they know—or think they know—about their neighbors. This is the type of book I prefer reading on an e-reader, because of the searching capabilities.
Seeing Mr. Breeder here was strange and Maria didn’t like it because he looked sad and like he might have a secret. She preferred keeping things simple between them—he was a bigot, she was a warrior on the side of right, but she worried she hadn’t really done much to advance any cause.
In Colliersville, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. Being different is among the worst offenses. Some hide who they are to avoid trouble. Many of the characters feel left behind by their loved ones and the world at large. Life has passed them by and nothing has turned out the way it was supposed to. They all struggle with inertia. A sense regret and loneliness pervades the atmosphere. For all the talk of personal responsibility, there’s not always an abundance of it. The self-loathing tends to direct outwards. There’s always an outside force that prevented them from reaching their full potential. The guy who failed his drug test blames Juan for stealing his janitorial job. Helman Yoder blames the government for taking his business away, conveniently forgetting that he made a conscious decision to break the law in spectacular fashion. The apartments that supposedly went downhill because of the “illegals” were always dilapidated. Much of the rising crime in that area is due to people harassing the occupants.
“Anyway, the way things change, you start to long for death,” Granny said. “I guess that’s how it’s supposed to work. When I go I won’t miss this place, I’ll tell you that much.”
President Obama gets blamed for even the most personal of problems, though some of the most visceral anger would be more accurately directed at the cycle of life. They yearn to return to the long gone good-old-days: when they were young, their kids were still safe at home, and before they experienced real loss and disappointment. Colliersville High School’s head cook Shellie Pogue admits that the town might’ve always been circling the drain, but at least when Reagan was in office she felt like she was in “good hands.” Now it feels like “the world she knew, or thought she knew, was shrinking to the size of her palm.”
They have to have something, so what they have is judgment.
There are people in Colliersville that see things a little differently, but many of them seem to keep their thoughts to themselves. Perhaps there’s a message there that avoiding hard topics and being polite to keep the peace actually has the opposite effect. One of the most memorable characters is Helen, who has just suffered a major loss. She’s fed up with everything. She has had enough of all the grand theatrics that disguise ugly things and the seemingly selfless acts done with selfish motivations.
I liked the gritty realism of the early chapters, so I wasn’t prepared for the mystical turn in the last quarter. View Spoiler »Looking back there were hints, especially in that first chapter. Colliersville is built in an area where Native Americans were killed and there was talk of blood curses after Daisy went missing. Still, I was caught off guard by the guy talking to animals (which we find out is actually happening) and the reincarnation section. Maybe my gaps in knowledge or cynicism that prevented me from enjoying those parts. Even though I found the contrast jarring, the last chapter was emotional and beautifully written, though perhaps a bit saccharine. « Hide Spoiler
What she really wanted to say to him was, Do more. Get out and do more while you still can. Sing “Tonight” at the top of your lungs. Be as abnormal as you want to be. Go to prom but only if you want to, and never let someone leave you alone in the middle of the dance floor. Throw the fucking bushel basket out the window and let your light shine because what else is there, really? What else? None of us is getting out of this alive.
Tornado Weather shines a light on “man’s inhumanity to man.” Most of these characters don’t even treat themselves humanely because they don’t think they deserve any better. The residents of Colliersville have legitimate fears about where their next paycheck will come from and one-size-fits-all government solutions, but fears don’t always manifest themselves in the most productive or rational ways. The story of this small town reveals the importance of community and showing empathy for others. It’s difficult to hate someone once you get to know them. Will Daisy’s disappearance and nature’s fury force the community to come together? Maybe if the citizens of Colliersville can forgive themselves for their past sins, they will be able to open their hearts to each other and inject some life into their dying community.
I love when my nonfiction reading and fiction reading collide! The following books dive more into the political realm, but I saw connections to many of the perspectives in Tornado Weather
• Jon Ronson’s The Elephant in the Room includes an anecdote about marginalization. He writes about a woman who spoke at the Republican National Convention on the effects of trade policy on her avocado farm. Online spectators immediately mocked her and attacked her based on false assumptions. Ronson’s analysis: “The alt-right movement is a little more popular than in the days before polarization became such a fad on social media, before practically every faction across the spectrum hardened its position deciding that instant judgment was a more heroic stance than curiosity. When a person can’t make a speech about the struggles of avocado farmers without being torn to bits because they’re in the wrong camp, the right will inevitably benefit.”
• The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time by Brooke Gladstone – This book is about leaving our bubbles and trying to see the world from someone else’s point of view.
• I’m currently reading We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates (pub Oct. 3, 2017) – In the intro, he explains why a successful Obama presidency actually stoked more racial anger than a failed Obama presidency would have. There’s also a fantastic quote about the nostalgia for a past that never existed. (I’ll post it here after it publishes.)
• On the subject of reflexive blame: In real life, I’ve been shocked by the number of people who don’t even attempt applying for college scholarships because of a distorted view of how the system works—even seventeen years ago when I was getting ready to start college. Related article: White Trump voters think they face more discrimination than blacks. The Trump administration is listening (Analysis).