Right after the Weather, Carol Anshaw’s fifth book, opens in a warehouse in Chicago, where Cate, a forty-something set designer, searches for the perfect desk to “pump up the visuals” of the play she’s currently working on, a play that, in her colleague’s words, “sucks.”
This moment sets the scene for what plays out over the course of the novel. Cate is good at her job, and has stayed in the profession as her “cohort of theater friends… came and went along”—getting married and having children and acquiring steady jobs. She has a nice-enough apartment, though her ex-husband is currently camped out in her spare bedroom recovering from a breakup by obsessing over conspiracy theories. She’s dating a woman she really wants to be “the one” despite the obvious warning signs, and attempting—unsuccessfully—to disentangle herself from an ongoing love affair. All of which is to say, she knows she’s adrift and each effort to anchor herself only pushes her further adrift.
The one sturdy thing in Cate’s life is her long-time friendship with Neale. Neale is beautiful, and sweet, and Cate adores her. So when Cate walks into Neale’s home one afternoon to pick her up for yoga class and discovers a couple of local drug addicts assaulting Neale, the resulting violence irrevocably alters both of their lives, as well as their friendship.
Because fate is as kind as it is cruel, the assault occurs in the same breath as Cate being selected by two lesbian playwrights to put up the set for their next New York show. This unexpected coup has the potential to finally launch Cate’s career—but it also provides an emotional (and physical) escape from the trauma she and Neale lived through in Chicago. Though it is her “big break,” the event and the resulting time away echo Cate’s inability to resolve anything in her life. When she wakes the morning after the assault, “She understands she has arrived on another side of everything. No one is over here with her.” What she claims to want and what she pursues remain at odds.
Set in late 2016 through early 2017, Right after the Weather captures a world in midst of crisis. Politics play a role in the book, along the edges—these characters are upset about the recent election, they worry about the turns the world might take—they are aware that the easy lives they have long led are under threat.
But the novel isn’t about politics, not really. It is about the psychology of ordinary people who are put through extraordinary circumstances. Anshaw’s sentences are beautiful, and her characters are complex; the plot builds towards a slow climax, which then falls into a slow spin and a somewhat abrupt finale. Anshaw’s meticulous attention to the quiet, inevitable impact of the assault on Cate’s life and her friendship with Neale’s gives Right after the Weather its main drive. But despite her best intentions, Cate cannot alter the course that fate has set her on.
Right after the Weather is a sensuous and layered book. Though its pacing is subtle, Anshaw is a deft writer and her details are insightful, intelligent, astute, and subtly humorous. Cate—who may seem hapless to some—perhaps merely lacks the insight to see that the artistic, if sometimes aimless, course of her life is actually a beautiful meander. She remains true to herself, even when it looks ridiculous to those around her. In the final scene, a ripple of an epiphany blows through her—not enough to change her, but perhaps enough to allow her to see she’s doing just fine.
Right after the Weather
By Carol Anshaw
Hardcover, 9781476747798, 272 pp.