A young man’s wartime death increases pre-existing tensions in a Midwestern community even as nightmarish weather approaches.
The town at the heart of Walsh’s first novel is one with plenty of history, and the book allows lots of time for the connections between its inhabitants to reveal themselves. In the first third of the novel, prosaic passages describing a gathering storm are intercut with portraits of the residents—particularly Rose, the grieving mother of Lance, a soldier killed overseas. Slowly, tensions emerge: Rose’s strained relationship with her stepsister Stella, for one, as well as an ongoing dispute over property. Juxtaposed with these is the figure of the Old Man, whose musings on life after having been struck by lightning add to the novel’s themes of festering grievances and unresolved guilt. From there, Walsh reveals the past events that led these characters to this point. The reader gets a better sense of Lance as his fate looms larger, and other characters become more fully developed: the Old Man, before his near-fatal accident, shows a less sympathetic side; Ward, Stella’s husband, reveals a more complex personality. And throughout, there’s a sense of economic foreboding: even without the catastrophic weather implied by the title, ominous things are on the horizon for many of the characters. The pace of the novel’s first part can feel overly deliberate, and Walsh’s lack of specificity in terms of allusions to recent history and political debates is a stylistic device that doesn’t entirely click. But when the novel hits its stride, it moves along very well.
The steady pacing of Walsh’s novel occasionally works against it, but the quiet revelations that emerge lend it a surprising power.