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Right After the Weather

Review

Right After the Weather

When Carol Anshaw released CARRY THE ONE in 2012, it was an instant hit --- readers everywhere praised her careful observations and skilled wordplay, along with her heartfelt and compassionate storyline. Now, following a seven-year wait, Anshaw returns with RIGHT AFTER THE WEATHER, an equally keen-eyed and sharp novel with more than a few surprises up its sleeve.

It is the fall of 2016 when we meet forty-something Cate, a skilled but under-praised set designer who is in a bit of a slump. For too long, Cate waited to see what would happen when she grew up; now she is 40 and more uncertain than ever. Even worse, she is living with her ex-husband and his dog, she is getting over a toxic relationship, and she has just learned that her new girlfriend has a crazier backstory than she ever could have imagined. Still, there are bright spots in Cate’s life: namely her best friend, Neale, and Neale’s son, who offers her a glimpse into the life she fears she might have missed. Set against the backdrop of Trump’s presidency and divided into two parts centered on a devastating tragedy, RIGHT AFTER THE WEATHER is a story of uncertainties, hard truths and change.

"...[a] keen-eyed and sharp novel with more than a few surprises up its sleeve.... This is my first time reading a book by Carol Anshaw, and I was absolutely blown away by her careful and economic writing."

Cate is a wonderful protagonist: stuck in life and full of potential, but with a bevy of frustrating flaws that make her feel as real as your own best friend, lover or coworker. Her passion for set design is a terrific lifeline in the book: I learned a ton about historical accuracy, the importance of size and placement, and, of course, the theater. But what is more interesting about Cate is her apparent cognitive dissonance with her life. Though she is in her 40s, her choices --- in life, love and career --- often seem to be made by someone much younger who is dragging their heels against the rush of time, which adds a sense of coming-of-age to this otherwise very grown-up novel. At the same time, she practically drools with envy over Neale’s much more content life of motherhood, independence and bravery.

Interspersed with Cate’s chapters, we meet Nathan and Irene, reckless and vaguely sociopathic drug addicts who live nearby, and whose lives cross with Cate’s when she catches them in Neale’s kitchen. The violence she witnesses is so catastrophically traumatizing that it forces Cate back into her body and life with stark and painful repercussions. Faced with an impending presidential term that terrifies her, her own midlife crisis and now her best friend’s vicious attack, Cate must decide how exactly she can proceed and become the person she wants to be --- and who that even is anymore.

This is my first time reading a book by Carol Anshaw, and I was absolutely blown away by her careful and economic writing. Though the novel does not feel forced in any way, it is obvious that she chooses each word with careful precision --- there is no single wasted sentence or clichéd phrase. Like her previous works, RIGHT AFTER THE WEATHER is short, because Anshaw observes her characters and their emotions and actions sharply and vividly, so that each portrait is so fully fleshed out that there is no need to prattle on. However, her portrayals of some characters --- like Cate, Maureen and Neale --- are so perfectly sharp that others fall flat. You may care for Cate, but it is difficult to apply that feeling to Anshaw’s supporting characters, who can lessen the weight of her powerful statements about life and its hardships.

Building upon her own skilled wordplay and characterizations, Anshaw also dissects the ways that small, seemingly meaningless choices and events can forever alter the course of one’s life. More importantly, as with Cate, they can alter the way one sees oneself --- and that is sometimes more impactful than any major life change.

I’ve said already that Anshaw writes beautifully and vividly --- perhaps more so than any author I’ve read in recent memory. That said, RIGHT AFTER THE WEATHER is a difficult book to describe. As much as Cate feels stuck in her life, Anshaw’s writing sometimes feels stuck in a lack of action. Few major plot points occur here, and the biggest does not unfold until midway through. Despite Anshaw’s snapshot-like writing propelling the reader forward, I can see why some may put this book down too early, hoping for more “oomph.” The pacing is, unfortunately, painfully realistic, which can feel daunting in fiction.

That said, if you can handle a slow burn, you will definitely be rewarded by Anshaw’s clever, keenly observed writing, her astute and remarkably familiar characterizations, and, of course, the story of how one woman becomes stuck --- and how she can ever move past her own complacencies.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on October 11, 2019

Right After the Weather
by Carol Anshaw

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1476747792
  • ISBN-13: 9781476747798