It all seems simple enough on the surface, even archetypal. A divorced mother and her teenage daughter are fighting. Across town, meanwhile, in the sultry summer heat, the girl's great-uncle is going blind, his maniacal obsession with the Weather Channel threatening his already-tentative hold on reality. Exhibiting both the punch and precision of a short-story writer and the patience of a novelist, Thompson handles the book with extraordinary care, creating a story that reminds us that happiness is elusive and loneliness is the hardest thing to share, that even in the midst of ordinary hardship, evil can suddenly storm in. In this book it's the seeming "crazies" who yield the wisdom and the cataclysms that are cathartic. Thompson's over-the-shoulder third-person voices are more intimate than most first- person voices, and if at times she risks implausible coincidences and conditions, these authorial prerogatives keep the story thundering on and enable her to build toward a memorable, dramatic climax.
Domestic tensions deflate into screwball hijinks in this pleasant, if somewhat toothless, debut novel by the author of Who Do You Love: Stories, a 1999 National Book Award finalist for fiction. Set over one summer in Springfield, Ill., the novel follows four characters floundering amid life's disappointments. Elaine is a wry, open-hearted divorce ("so far she had a business that worked, a marriage that didn't, and a daughter who the jury was still out on"). Her daughter, Josie, hates Springfield, hates her parents' divorce, hates her whole life. She wants to skip town, but settles for falling in love with a policeman and scheming to get herself arrested. Elaine and Josie find themselves caring for her ex-husband's doddering great uncle Harvey, a half-blind, compulsive watcher of the Weather Channel. Harvey just wants to be left alone, and he especially wants to avoid the cataract surgery that Elaine insists on. Meanwhile, in California, a violent young man named Rolando steals a car and heads east. A lifetime of abuse from his peers has plunged him into delusional rage. Like the weather systems that Harvey obsessively tracks, he rolls toward Springfield. Thompson's characters are mostly likable, especially the mordant Elaine, determined to muddle through flawed relationships and shoulder her responsibilities, however remote happiness may seem. Unfortunately, the novel loses its edge by the time it reaches its sensational climax. The fury and mute pain of Rolando and Harvey, respectively which start out lending the book its ominous tension are blunted, and the mood tips toward gentle comedy. It's a credit to Thompson that the contrived plot still holds the reader's attention, and that her tidy, optimistic ending never becomes saccharine. Beneath these cheerful shenanigans, a more truthful story seems to stir it's a pity Thompson hasn't let it come to the surface. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
It's summer 2001 in Springfield, IL, and Harvey Sloan's sole interest in life continues to be the Weather Channel. His great-niece, Josie, possessed by a hopeless teenage love, confides in Abe Lincoln. Her divorced mother, Elaine, starts to believe that a good or bad day is indicated by her car's service engine light. Meanwhile, Rolando Gottschalk, armed with a gun and an unknown agenda, seems to be headed to Springfield from Los Angeles, leaving a wake of random destruction. Add Mitch, a gorgeous cop, and Rosa, a Mexican cleaning woman, to the mix and you have a novel with characters both memorable and believable. Thompson, a 2001 National Book Award finalist for Who Do You Love: Stories, moves with precision from the first paragraph to the last in chapters that read like short stories. She transforms the familiar themes of desire for happiness, fulfillment, and redemption by using weather as a powerful emblem. This is a novel to savor. For all fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/01.] Rebecca Sturm Kelm, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The unsparing realism displayed in Thompson's story collections The Gasoline Wars (1979) and Who Do You Love (1999) is blended with a new (and very welcome) warmth and humor in her bighearted third novel: it reads like a journey into Anne Tyler country, with Thomas Berger and John Irving along for the ride. The opening 50-plus pages comprise a master class in expository technique, as Thompson introduces us to four vividly imagined characters, lays out their interrelationships, and sets them on a collision course that leads inexorably to a (ever so slightly forced) melodramatic climax. Reclusive Harvey Sloan, a.k.a. "Local Forecast," lives in mentally deranged squalor in a rundown house (in Springfield, Illinois) that's a shrine to his inexplicable fixation on TV weather programs. His sister-in-law Elaine is an aging divorcee burdened by her demanding "home accessories" business and her rebellious teenager Josie-and also by her ex-husband's neglect of (his brother) hopeless Uncle Harvey (whose many problems include incipient blindness). Meanwhile, in LA, ethnic misfit Rolando Gottschalk, an unstable petty criminal, begins making his way east, graduating to increasingly dangerous misbehavior. And Josie's whirlwind affair with a handsome cop hits the skids, sending her to Uncle (actually, he's her great-uncle) Harvey's house for sanctuary, just as Harvey is refusing cataract surgery and planning to wed his non-English-speaking cleaning lady Rosa, and Rolando, "armed and crazy" and hallucinating at full throttle, descends on Springfield. The long denouement is fairly contrived. But readers won't mind, because its characters are so eccentric and engaging they all but leap off the pages. Themother-daughter warfare between Josie and Elaine is blissfully, murderously funny and touching, while Thompson performs little miracles of tact and suggestiveness with both Rolando's (really scary)dementia and Harvey's occluded, motley point of view (though the eventual explanation of what drove him crazy is awfully topical and predictable). Somebody is going to make a terrific movie out of Wide Blue Yonder. It's a pretty terrific novel.
The New York Times Book Review Lisa Zeidner Detonates a whole fireworks of happy endings flares of hope and success so exuberant that the book almost seems to require a warning label.
Deirdre Donahue USA Today Wide Blue Yonder offers precisely the kind of beautifully crafted, intelligent, imaginative writing that serious readers crave....Each sentence deserves to be appreciated.
Andrew Roe San Francisco Chronicle Wide Blue Yonder reaffirms Thompson's stature as one of our most lucid and insightful writers.