Cate, the heroine of Carol Anshaw’s fifth novel, “Right After the Weather,” is initially absorbed by somewhat quotidian matters: her credit card debt and her antagonistic mother; uncertainty about her new girlfriend, Maureen; unshakable longing for her former lover, Dana; blossoming affection for her ex-husband’s dog; and utter devotion to her best friend Neale.
After interrupting a home invasion at Neale’s house — fatally harming Neale’s assailant in the process — Cate’s slate of concerns expands to include fragments of violent memory. She begins to approach the world differently, fueled by a hyper-awareness of potential danger that isn’t particularly related to fear. “I was just so furious I didn’t think to be afraid,” she reflects. Dana describes this change as the feeling of being “powerful,” and Cate seems tacitly grateful to be recognized: “No one else has guessed this.”
Anshaw makes a point of noting that Neale and her son live in a “crumbling monstrosity” in a “dicey neighborhood.” Before his death, Nathan, the assailant, serves as an occasional narrator in the days leading up to the attack. He and his partner, Irene, make an appearance trick-or-treating at Neale’s house, appearing as “candy-seeking cyborgs” who are swiftly dismissed.
In an outpouring of narration meant to build tension, Nathan describes the methods he and Irene use to frighten the people whose houses they enter. When he finally appears in Neale’s kitchen, the moment reads as inevitable. Anshaw takes a risk by giving Nathan so much space on the page, and by giving him some of the most lyrical prose: bar soap is “bleached bone,” a bathroom is a “tabernacle.” Of Irene, Nathan says, “She enjoys the tide of people who come in, then seep out of her life.”
Irene escapes when Nathan does not, and the fear of her return is a convincing spectral presence in Neale’s and Cate’s lives.
Beyond Neale, Cate’s Chicago is full of idiosyncratic friends — her ex-husband, Graham, who lives in the guest room of the home he bought for her, is increasingly paranoid about the reach of technology, and rarely leaves the house. Maureen, her new girlfriend, casually refers to an objectively alarming relationship in her past, and wears expensive clothing from department stores with the intention of returning it. Neale — beautiful yoga teacher and loving mother — is simply a good person, for the most part; Dana’s only flaw seems to be that she has a long-term partner. Cate’s career as a set designer takes a turn toward greater success when she is hired to do a play in New York, though she clashes, mildly, with her new employers.
At times, the novel is burdened by its numerous characters, their implausible quirks, and their almost uniform love for Cate. The most credible moments are those of discordant interiority, such as when Cate, who lost several fingers in a childhood accident, recognizes that “she had long thought her bad thing had already happened,” a deeply revealing moment that showcases Anshaw at her best.
Jackie Thomas-Kennedy won the 2019 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize. She held a 2014-16 Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University.
Right After the Weather
By: Carol Anshaw.
Publisher: Atria, 269 pages, $27.