Right After the Weather

Carol Anshaw

Published by Atria Books US/Fig Tree UK

1 October 2019/13 February 2020

288pp, hardcover, $27

Reviewed by Elsbeth Lindner

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Incest, attempted rape, manslaughter, conspiracy theories – there’s no shortage of plot dynamics in Anshaw’s latest novel. But this is neither a thriller nor a sensational piece of crime fiction, instead a witty and rather perceptive consideration of relationships both sexual and platonic, a tracing of the arc of life from the midpoint, and thoughts about how early expectations of fulfilment might have to be modified.

Set in Chicago just after the election of Donald Trump, it’s the story of lesbian set-designer Cate, a middle-aged, middle-class white woman with an ex-husband Graham – currently camping in her spare bedroom – a best friend Neale, an unavailable lover Dana and a new girlfriend Maureen, who is supposedly Plan C for a future of settled contentment but who is revealing disturbing signs of incompatibility.

While juggling these connections, Cate must also deal with her critical mother’s disappointments and work hard to support herself, whatever the quality of the theatrical production she’s hired to furnish.

Shrewd, rueful and often solitary, Cate is an appealing central figure whose ambitions and disenchantments might tend toward the universal. She has a tender heart for those she loves, both human and animal, and a brain that takes its time comprehending and digesting events from left field.

And left field is the direction of incoming activity, firstly an invitation to create the sets for a prestigious play about Vita Sackville-West to be staged in New York, and second an act of violence inflicted on one of those closest to Cate.

Life’s paths are rarely predictable, and this is another lesson for Cate to learn, when heroism turns sour and disruptive, leaving trauma in its wake.

Anshaw’s novel cheerfully eschews the happy ever after. Neither literary nor a potboiler, this is instead an immersive modern tale of survival as a single woman, with a lot of interior-design observation stirred into the proceedings. A treat.

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