While not a tale of freak events and sudden storms, consider the weather in this subtle yet sharp novel to be more a story of patterns and almost unnoticeable shifts. The story, which contains plenty of powerful gusts of wit, is essentially a collection of thoughts. A lean 200 pages, it can easily be demolished in one afternoon. Although thoroughly enjoyable, many of its musings are as memorable as a long-ago favourited Tweet.
Offill very cleverly depicts an emerging toxic political narrative unfolding in the time the book is set – the lead up to and aftermath of the 2016 US Presidential Election – and how the atmospheric shift complicates her work answering the letters and ranting of the often deliberately misinformed.
University librarian and amateur psychologist Lizzie Benson is like many women of her age – balancing caring responsibilities for her curious son, kind husband, religious fanatic mother and recovering addict brother – and now she has been roped in to answer the mail for her former mentor Sylvia’s popular podcast, Hell and High Water. As the show continues, the ideological divide between its listeners falls in step with the culture wars taking place across America. The liberals are increasingly alarmed about climate change, the conservatives worried about the decline in western civilisation as they know it.
Told entirely from Lizzie’s perspective, Offill injects enough life into her supporting characters to prevent it lapsing into monotony. The scenes involving the recovering brother Henry and his new bride particularly leap off the page. Lizzie’s own husband makes frequent yet benign appearances but is the subject of one of Weather’s most poignant observations regarding “the goodwill banked” in long-term love. You may not recall the precise weather one year ago, but at the time you remember how it made you feel. Expect a similar reaction to Weather – momentarily fascinating, then easily forgotten.