It’s the fall of 2016. Cate, a set designer in her early forties, lives and works in Chicago’s theater community. She knows it’s time to get past her prolonged adolescence and stop taking handouts from her parents. She has a firm plan to get solvent and settled in a serious relationship. She has tentatively started something new even as she’s haunted by an old, going-nowhere affair. Her ex-husband, recently booted from his most recent marriage, is currently camped out in Cate’s spare bedroom, in thrall to online conspiracy theories, and she’s not sure how to help him. Her best friend Neale, a yoga instructor, lives nearby with her son and is Cate’s model for what serious adulthood looks like.
Only a few blocks away, but in a parallel universe we find Nathan and Irene—casual sociopaths, drug addicts, and small-time criminals. Their world and Cate’s intersect the day she comes into Neale’s kitchen to find these strangers assaulting her friend. Forced to take fast, spontaneous action, Cate does something she’s never even considered. She now also knows the violence she is capable of, isolating her from everyone else in her life, and overnight, their world has changed. Together, they all grapple with their altered relationships and identities against the backdrop of the new Trump presidency and a country waking to a different understanding of itself.
“With sharply drawn characters, an ensnaring plot, and a look back at closeted gay lives, Anshaw, acutely attuned to the shifting weather of emotions and relationships, insightfully dramatizes the insistence of desire over convention and expediency and the endless reverberations of violence” (Booklist, starred review).
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|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
On the fourth floor of a warehouse under the long stretch of the Green Line as it heads west out of the Loop, Cate prowls across a vast plain of old office desks. A walk through the decades of the previous century. She travels from linoleum to fake wood to real wood to scarred metal. She is looking for a particular desk. The play—At Ease—for which she is designing the sets, takes place in the late 1950s, on a military base in Georgia. She needs a metal desk, olive drab if possible. She has found two possibilities, but one is too small and one is tan. This will be the desk of the closeted drill sergeant. She decides to go with the larger one and spray-paint it at her shop. She snaps a couple of pictures, measures it with her tape, then pencils these dimensions into sketches of the play’s two sets. In the second set, the desk will be covered with a mattress and used as a bed.
Her cell makes the sound of a coin dropping into an old pay phone, a notification sound Maureen put on Cate’s phone so she’d know it was Maureen calling. Maureen’s photo appears on the screen, to the side of a text dialog box. The picture was taken on one of their early dates, a couple of months back now. Maureen is in a theater seat, leaning sideways to fit in the frame. Looking terrific in an effervescent way.
Cate never knows how to reply to this vague sort of question.
looking for a desk
can I see you tonight?
going to neale’s yoga class
ok. so, tomorrow then. already excited.
Advances in communication technology have made Cate’s life so much smoother. She is bad at phone calls, especially bad at making them, possibly interrupting someone in the middle of something more important. She hates hearing that small adjustment in someone’s voice. Now she almost never has to hear it. Probably the best phone calls of her life were the vintage ones, the hours she and Neale spent on the phone late at night as teenagers, luxurious conversations, artifacts of an earlier civilization. Also artifacts of who she and Neale used to be when they were trying to assemble the universe.
Now her phone is mostly a tool for semaphoring whereabouts and plans, for taking pictures of stage sets and furniture, interesting colors, appliances of the past.
Maureen’s phone, on the other hand, is her best friend. Everything in her life is filtered through it—information received, confirmed, replied to, shared. Not to mention recorded with the phone’s camera. One night when the two of them were hanging out on Maureen’s giant sectional sofa, Maureen startled herself.
“Wow. I almost forgot. It’s Jill’s birthday.” Which prompted her to send a small burst of texted good wishes punctuated with a selfie of her waving. “I know they’re stupid,” she said, but kept on tapping in emojis of firecrackers and a cake. Jill is not a person, she’s a decrepit barn cat who belongs to one of Maureen’s stable of once lovers/now friends.
The dinner Maureen is already excited about is her treat at a ridiculously expensive restaurant. Cate hopes her pair of dressy pants is clean and pressed. As soon as she slips the phone back into her pocket, it starts ringing, an actual call. She looks at the screen. It’s Raymond. The guy doing the lights; she has to answer.
“What I’m thinking,” she tells him, “is big lights for the drill scene, big Georgia daylight. Then a creepy sort of pale, late-afternoon darkness for the sex scene in the barracks.”
“I can definitely do creepy,” Raymond says. “Make it double creepy if you like.”
Cate lies down, stretching out across three desks. “We need to pump up the visuals on account—”
“On account of the play sucks?”
“We can help, though.” No one wants to write or direct or act in a bad play, but bad plays do happen. And when they do, everyone concerned, Cate believes, needs to do their best to save the play from itself. When it was written, At Ease was a story with a gay subtext in a time when queerness was too naked to present directly; it needed to be discreetly dressed. It needed underwear and an overcoat. The drill sergeant’s murder of a corporal in the second act is ostensibly military discipline gone too far, but beneath it bubbles jealousy and self-loathing. The drill sergeant seethes at a crummy affair the corporal is having with an unhappily married nurse at the base hospital. Sometime in the 1950s this was put up on Broadway or near Broadway with not Ava Gardner, but someone sort of famous—like Carroll Baker or Shirley Knight—playing the nurse. And so the company is putting this relic up to honor its place in gay history rather than for its watchability.
She slides the phone back into her pocket and lies very still. The damp autumn day outside gets filtered in here through groaning radiators, the light sifted by grimy, wire-meshed windows, then carried down on the dust that occupies the air in this sealed-away space. An el train hurtles past, sucking every other piece of noise out of the air, leaving behind a brief wake of silence.
From here, she enters a mental space she gets to by way of a deep tunnel. Once inside, she can realize a set to its smallest detail. She can see the actors bring the set to life. Sometimes she casts the play with perfect actors. Oliviers and Branaghs and Redgraves. Inside her imagination no flubbed lines trip up the dialog, no tape mark is overshot, no doorbell rings randomly, off-cue. Even a play as bad as the one she’s working on now can at least get bathed in a glow of respectability.
She rolls over and idly tugs open the drawers of the very old wooden desk on which she’s lying. One contains a short stack of yellow dog, the cheap, porous paper reporters used for typing copy back in the day. Somebody else’s day, before her day, but she knows what it is. She has become a historian of small visual details. These pages are still yellow at the center, faded to gray at their edges. In the top drawer she hits pay dirt—two ornate fountain pens, Esterbrooks, their casings marbleized Bakelite, one deep red, the other brown—the sort of small detail that subtly lends a period play authenticity. She slips them into a jacket pocket. She will ask downstairs if she can have them. She’ll give them the number of the desk. They’ll get it out somehow. She’s never asked how they perform the extraction. The desks are impossibly cheap.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Right after the Weather includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Carol Anshaw. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Right after the Weather takes place in the fall of 2016. Cate, a set designer in her early forties, lives and works in Chicago’s theater community. She has stayed too long at the fair and knows it’s time to get past her prolonged adolescence and stop taking handouts from her parents. She has a firm plan to get solvent and settled in a serious relationship. She has tentatively started something new even as she’s haunted by an old affair. Her ex-husband, recently booted from his most recent marriage, is currently camped out in Cate’s spare bedroom, in thrall to online conspiracy theories, and she’s not sure how to help him. Her best friend, Neale, a yoga instructor, lives nearby with her son and is Cate’s model for what serious adulthood looks like.
Only a few blocks away but in a parallel universe we find Nathan and Irene—casual sociopaths, drug addicts, and small-time criminals. Their worlds intersect the day Cate comes into Neale’s kitchen to find these strangers assaulting her friend. Forced to take fast, spontaneous action, Cate does something she’s never considered. In the aftermath, she’s left knowing the violence she is capable of.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Although Cate speaks positively about Maureen in early chapters, it becomes clear that there is some disconnect in their relationship and she has to start selling herself on the romance. Where did you notice this happening?
2. Discuss Cate’s friendship with Neale as compared to her relationships with Maureen and Dana beyond two being lovers, one a friend.
3. Cate would probably describe her relationship with Joe as an intergenerational friendship. What value do you think this friendship holds for each of them?
4. Graham is an “open-ended presence” (p. 25) both in Cate’s apartment and in her life. They have an unusual arrangement. How does it change through the course of the novel?
5. How are all of Cate’s relationships a way of building a family?
6. The author intersperses Cate’s perspective with Nathan’s point of view. What does this add to the narrative?
7. Cate comes to Neale’s rescue, but the experience leaves her isolated, and she realizes that in the aftermath “she has arrived on another side of everything. No one is over here with her” (p. 155). Why do you think she feels alone? Does she also, as Dana suggests, feel powerful? How do you think you would feel in her situation?
8. If you came upon a friend in the same situation, do you think you’d jump in to stop the assailant?
9. How does the incident in the kitchen change Neale and Cate’s relationship?
10. A theme of this novel considers what we owe to the people who have cared for us. Discuss how this theme plays out throughout the narrative.
11. At the end, Cate has pulled off the highway. What direction do you think her life will take from here?
12. Do you think she’s a slightly different person from who she is at the start of the book?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read Carol Anshaw’s previous book, Carry the One, with your book group and discuss the similarities and differences between it and Right after the Weather.
2. Discuss whether you ever done something that you had previously considered yourself incapable of doing.
3. Pull up a map of Chicago and plot the settings for scenes from the novel.
A Conversation with Carol Anshaw
Both Right after the Weather and your previous book, Carry the One, deal with the repercussions of a single life-changing act. Why do you think your work comes back to this?
A while back, in an interview, a writer said what follows violence is always interesting. In these two books I follow that trajectory in different ways. In both cases, characters are yanked out of their usual lives and set down in an entirely different place. That gives me a lot to work with.
Much of this novel grapples with the aftermath of the 2016 election. Why did you choose to write about the topic? How did the election affect your writing process?
As I was writing the book, the election happened. There’s no way these characters would’ve been able to ignore it, so I had to put it in and use it to underline the characters in their relation to it.
In addition to writing, you paint, so you have a foot in multiple artistic worlds. What kind of research did you do for Cate’s work in the theater?
I read a lot. I talked with several set designers and I went on a backstage tour of a Broadway theater. It was a world that was new to me so it was fiercely interesting. I hope I got it right.
How did you come to the shocking revelation Maureen shares with Cate on p. 20?
I needed something that would probably be a deal breaker in a budding relationship, something that would make staying in it very tentative.
What was the most challenging scene to write?
The scene in the kitchen.
In the course of working on this novel, did any of the characters’ actions or reactions surprise you?
Well, of course I’m writing book so surprising me is not an option, but the character I had to keep figuring and refiguring was Neale. How would she react to being attacked? To Cate’s rescue? To her parents’ stepping in? To her husband’s return?
Why did you choose not to dramatize the scene where Cate rescues Neale?
I did. I just broke it up into pieces of flashback. That way I got to both show it and run it through Cate’s memory.
In writing the scene where Neale is assaulted, did you consider what you would do in Cate’s situation?
Every step of the way.
Instead of chapter numbers, you give each a word or two. Can you explain these?
I put these in as I start to write a section. I almost never change them later. They’re like little pushpins for me. When I want to go back to a section, I can find it right away. I can build out the section from that small point.
Of all the characters in this novel, which would you most like to know in real life?
What do you hope readers take away from this novel?
That people, when pressed, are able to come up with heroic moments.
What are you working on next?
I’m writing a novel about a woman from her twenties through her seventies.