I have fond memories of reading Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One way back in 2012 when it was published here in the UK so was keen to get my hands on her new novel, Right After the Weather. Set in Anshaw’s home town of Chicago in the months before and after the 2016 election, it explores both the state of the nation and the nature of friendship through Cate, a 42-year-old theatrical set designer determined to anchor her precarious way of life in a more secure future.
Cate is designing the set for a play she knows will bomb but she’s doing her best to rescue it. Her own life is in need of attention: her income made up of meagre fees, part time teaching and handouts from her divorced parents; her affair with Dana at end, although not in either of their hearts; her new girlfriend somewhat over keen and her conspiracy-theory obsessed ex-husband holed up in her spare room with his dog. The one sure thing is her friendship with Neale who lives close by with 12-year-old Joe. Cate potters along, trying her best to overlook Maureen’s over-zealous communications, visiting Neale and Joe regularly, taking the closure of At Ease in her stride and thrilled when the two doyennes of New York theatre commission her to design the set for their new play. It seems at least one part of her plan has come to fruition. Then, one day, keen to hear a favourite track promised by her car radio’s DJ after the weather forecast, Cate interrupts an appalling act of violence which will throw all the cards of her life up into the air, affecting both herself and her relationships with others in surprising and deeply unsettling ways.
They’re like two people who years ago had rooms in the same boardinghouse, a time neither looks back on fondly.
Anshaw unfolds this wonderfully perceptive novel from Cate’s perspective, drawing you in to her boho liberal life, the state of the nation a constant background hum. She’s an engaging character, troubled by Maureen’s revelations, material excesses and determined attention. Anshaw’s exploration of the fallout from violence is well done, its effects on her characters sharply observed, and her wit is often pithy, a pleasing thread of wry humour running through her narrative.
Frances is what Cate would describe as recently pretty.
Even the dog is a triumph. I try to avoid spoilers but if, like me, the appearance of dogs in fiction makes you anxious about their fate, you need have no worries about the lovely Sailor. If anything, he’s the note of hope on which this intelligent absorbing piece of fiction ends. At one point, it emerges that Neale loves Elizabeth Strout’s writing and although I’m sure Anshaw was paying Strout a compliment rather than fishing for comparisons I’m more than happy to draw one. A quietly brilliant novel, so good, I included it on my Women’s Prize for Fiction wishlist. Fingers crossed…
Fig Tree: London 2020 9780241392805 269 pages Hardback