The story of the Candlestick Tornado, in Jackson, Mississippi, as told by Hemingway (Walk on Water, 1998, etc.): a tale as portentous and coolly menacing as the sky that March afternoon in 1966.
Hemingway lived for a spell as a kid in South Jackson, a new and ordered world of small mall and subdivision, and she knew the people who lived there. She and her family moved away only months before the woolly spring weather delivered a tornado to the neighborhood and turned it into a killing field. So there is a sense of indwelling to her writing, which she tempers to fit the mood of the story—like skipping stones as it tells of the town's daily life in the 1960s, wary as she shapes its history, silky and sinister as a bad dream when the weather turns murderous. At first, the tornado has a dreamy quality: the queer light (“pale green the color of spring grass shoots or yellow as a lemon skin”), the atmospheric compression and fantastic supernatural presence of the wind—“It sounded,” she says, “like a heartbeat.” She does a terrifying job describing the tornado—glass shards thickening the air, the choking dust and live wires and fire, the surreal story of a woman and her child in their Volkswagen lifted high into the sky, above the old oak trees, then lowered by the wind as gently as you would place a china cup on a marble table—a scene best summed up in another woman's words, “the world had rolled over.” The aftermath, both proximate to the event and 34 years later, when Hemingway returns to take testimony, is a rude as the storm, one of those “milestones of dark discovery, by initiation into the deliberate and unholy knowledge of the mortal.” Her profiles of a handful of the survivors are touching and as conductive as copper wire.
By squaring the storm to its social consequences, Hemingway drains any lingering romance one might have with tornadoes as sublime forces of nature.