Review by Adrina Palmer
The author of the “graceful and compassionate” (People) New York Times bestseller Carry the One presents a new and long-awaited novel exploring what happens when untested people are put to a hard test, and in its aftermath, find themselves in a newly uncertain world.
Quickly I learn I am not the right audience for ‘Right After the Weather’ written by Carol Anshaw, though I enjoyed some elements of the book, such as the gorgeous composition and snuck-in bits of valuable advice. Author Carol Anshaw has a way of composing sentences into mini works of art, a truly talented author as shown by her other successful novels. However, this novel lost me in the end as the choppy pace ended with no significant conclusion.
Single, forty-something Cate works as a set designer in Chicago, still waiting to grow up and find her place in life. Set in 2016, Cate’s ex-husband lives in her spare room sulking after his third divorce and indulging in paranoia. Maureen, Cate’s lover, has no clue she will never gain Cates heart as she is still seeing her ex, Dana, on the side. Neale, Cate’s best friend since high school, copes with teaching yoga and raising her preteen son alone while serving as Cate’s role model despite their vastly different lifestyles.
The slow-starting novel spends just over the first half of the book setting the stage for the rather anti-climactic finale. While waiting to get to the big event, we find the protagonist building sets, living on a tight budget, and trying to grow up. Maureen, Cate hopes, will serve as the catalyst to propel her into adulthood and sound decisions. Then she finds out a crazy little secret and doubts her lover’s place in her life which sends her back into the welcome arms of her ex-lover. This too is another bad decision as Dana refuses to let Cate go but also won’t let go of her long-term partner.
The backstory provides plenty of information about Cate and her group of friends. You see how she became who she is with an apathetic father and narcissistic mother who never quite forgave Cate for becoming a lesbian. As the book takes place in 2016, we get a clear vision of how liberal the main character and her group of people are as they spend great quantities of time upset over the current conservative president. They whine and plot protests to fight their perceived enemy.
Cate clings to Neale and their friendship even though her friend has grown up and made a life for herself. Then over halfway through the book, we get to the second part. Neale gets assaulted in her home and Cate ends up making a shocking decision she never knew she could make rocking the foundation of her core. This fundamental part of the book took less than two pages to describe Cate’s side of the events.
If the author had just stopped her and spent a significant portion of time explaining the event, the book would have improved so much. Instead, despite this event serving as a pinnacle change in the characters lives, the author gives only a glimpse through a foggy window and expects us to stay on board with no reward to follow.
In the second half of the novel, Cate rehashes the event in her head and with those in her life trying to come to terms with her new identity. She also takes up a lucrative set design job out of town and spends a lot of time in crappy motel rooms setting up a play about Vita and Virginia Woolf’s love affair. This whole section of the book surrounding the play highlights the issues the lesbian community deals with in the world in this politically charged novel.
I almost think the novel was written to just fill in blank spots in the LGBTQ section of the bookstore as the book ends without warning and no real resolution or verdict that Cate found herself throughout her trials and errors. Oh sure, the last couple pages show her friends moving on but leave her where she was before the incident, indecisive and still trying to grow up but with a better job.
While I could spend a couple of pages quoting beautiful lines from the story, the rest of the plot fell flat. Call me simple, but I want the purpose of the book given to me in the first couple of chapters. Also, the main event should take up a much larger presence inside the pages along with an ending. It’s like Mrs. Anshaw got writer’s block and glossed over those areas instead of filling them in with logical details.
Using the book to cope with her feelings about the current president could have been toned down or written in her journal. I have to say a couple of interesting twists kept my attention but ended without a follow-through. Why this book was based on a dying friendship makes little sense. When Neale needed Cate most, her friend focused on herself emotionally despite her physical presence. While we got such a clear glimpse into Cate’s psyche I only related to her a few times, but as I stated, I am not the target audience.
Do not read the description on the back of the book, it evokes an entirely different plot than the one offered. A few pieces never fully added up but the book will keep your attention to the end. The problem is a superb book makes you miss the characters from the moment you finish the last page. I was perfectly okay saying goodbye as these characters never fully came to life.
Available in bookstores October 1st