The god-awful story of a monster tornado’s progress, told by Kansas City writer Brewer, who was also a witness.
The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of a Category 5 tornado—known as the “incredible” and highest category, a step above the merely “devastating”—that wended its way from Williamsburg, Kan., to Knobtown, Mo., in a display of unrivaled energy and, to those who lived through the event, what must have felt like capricious malice. Brewer was then a child living in Ruskin Heights, Mo. “In Ruskin we had nothing but sky,” she says. Santa came from the sky, so did Grandma. “God lived in the sky. We were kids. What could you trust more than the sky?” Then something nasty dropped from the heavens. “First the smell. Sour, earthy, the inside smell of things never meant to be opened.” Brewer follows the course of the twister, taking testimony. Much of it underscores the banality of portent—“A few blocks to the east, Barbara Keister had a full house”—but there are also instances of beautiful understatement—“[Les] Lemon’s house was spared with only minor damage, but Les had a difficult time going to sleep that night.” There are a few stolen asides when readers can let their breath out, as when food critic Calvin Trillin sings the praises of Jess and Jim’s Steak House in Martin City, Kan., (destroyed, then rebuilt): “finest steak restaurant in the world.” Still, the tendency is to go from ominous to sheer terror, from “she noticed the neighbors were outside looking at the sky,” to “[s]he placed the still sleeping toddler in the linen closet and grabbed Melanie out of her crib.” The nightmares and scars are legion, and still much in evidence, but when you see “a house…lift up in the air about twenty feet, do a quarter turn, and disintegrate,” nightmares and scars are to be expected.
An almost unbearably vivid tale, experientially chromatic, but emotionally wrenching.