There's a kind of providence in the weather, an overarching yet unpredictable order to which all creatures bend. In Jean Thompson's new novel, Wide Blue Yonder, events take the shape of a weather system with a handful of characters spinning around the storm's center namely, Harvey, a.k.a. "Local Forecast," the unknowing fulcrum and catalyst of it all. He's a sweet, elderly and mentally challenged man who repeats the Weather Channel's reports like a litany. Harvey is great-uncle to 17-year-old Josie and uncle to her father, Frank. It's the discovery that Harvey is developing cataracts, and may soon be too blind to care for himself, that starts the winds of these unremarkable lives swirling.
As Frank and his wife Elaine argue about what to do with Harvey, Josie begins an obsession with a local policeman that lands her in trouble, leaving her mother grasping for control over the girl. Meanwhile, Rolando, a man with one foot in reality and the other in the warped twilight of a madman, begins an odyssey in L.A. which leads him to rob, shoot and snarl his way east. At the center of it all sits Harvey, wrestling with memories of a disturbing childhood and half-lit years in a mental ward. In a twist that puts him and his grand-niece in a strange symmetry, both straining against the people who make their decisions for them, Harvey finds love. As unbelievable as a full-scale intersection of these characters would seem, that's exactly what we get by the end of Wide Blue Yonder, just in time for the appearance of a real tropical storm named Harvey on the radar screens of the Weather Channel. Thompson, a National Book Award finalist last year for her short story collection Who Do You Love, is a master of timing, of the rhythm of speech and thought. She leaves the reader rapt, feeling the chill in the air, the flicker of nerves down the spine, the sink of the stomach out of fear or love. It's not just the turbulence of the events that evokes thunderstorm imagery, but the degree to which each character plunges forward, following a path as inevitable as the jet stream.
Sarah Goodrum is a writer and editor in Nashville.