I enjoyed Right after the Weather from the start. Carol Anshaw doesn’t waste time in developing the main character, Cate, and giving readers a sense of her life in Chicago: her love life, her work life, her home life. She’s barely making ends meet as a set designer, but her existence is made rich by friendships, a rescue dog, and the prospect of a solid romantic relationship that might help alleviate her loneliness and sense of aimless personal drifting. Cate’s ex-husband is crashing at her place after falling out with his current wife, but he’s dependable in interpersonal ways, much like Cate’s old friend Neale, who is the source of good conversation and companionship for errands. These characters, along with Cate’s current girlfriend and a woman she with whom she’s ambivalently having an affair, animate the story, and I was quickly swept into the humorous details of Cate’s life and compelled to keep reading to find out whether her multiple plans for getting her life back on track would come through as she hoped.
Cate has her flaws, but her genuine love for her friends, her humor, and her passion for her work made me like her and want to see events unfold that would bring her more personally and financially fulfilling work as well as more steady companionship that didn’t create so much conflict and self-criticism (easy to see where she gets the latter from the descriptions of the calls and visits with her mother). Just as a promising job prospect comes her way, Cate is thrown into a situation that will change her and the nature of her closest friendship. It will also change how she sees herself in the world, which in turn pushes a ripple through her plan for getting her life together.
Anshaw’s writing is crisp but descriptive. She gives just enough sensory details to create a strong sense of place while keeping the novel moving from one scene to the next, even when some of the chapters are short and involve mostly Cate’s inner dialogue. I found myself laughing out loud at times at the back and forth between characters and the way Cate described or reacted to the various things going on around her. Anshaw develops her characters well, and they are interesting and easy to care about. Even the personality of the dog, Sailor—is well developed through descriptions of his behavior and his play on the dog beach. These scenes are truly delightful.
The story has a unique premise and a colorful cast of characters. It’s an interesting study of human nature and the dynamics of relationships—those of both friends and lovers—under both ordinary and extraordinary conditions. In a few places, Anshaw brings in characters from outside Cate’s circle and economic level, poor though she may be. These characters eventually cross paths with Cate about halfway through the story in a brief but life-changing ways, but I wasn’t completely sold on Anshaw’s choice to develop these characters and introduce their voices. Once this crux of the novel comes and goes, we don’t hear from any of them again.
The novel was a quick read. I was left wanting more even though I found the ending satisfying. The plot is good and rich with the kind of conflict and suspense that make me love these types of books. I think the title is perfect, and Anshaw does a good job of showing, through her character, how events that can be described only as negative or traumatizing can also provide clarity in other aspects of a person’s life.
Right after the Weather was my first encounter with Anshaw’s writing, and I will definitely seek out more now that I’ve read this book.