Thursday, December 10, 2015

Twister by Genanne Walsh

Twister, the winner of the Big Moose Prize and a finalist for the Brighthorse Prize, embeds the reader in a small Midwestern town as a tornado approaches. The seemingly dying town’s residents are grieving the death of one of their own, Lance, a young soldier, who went to war due to a lack of opportunities at home. His mother Rose’s shaky grasp of reality is in question and her lack of connection with her neighbors and her sister don’t bode well. The town’s secrets are eerily revealed as if they existed in an alternate universe. Author Peter Orner notes that “This book digs beneath the surface of place to create a kind of Spoon River Anthology for our time replete with secrets, truths, startling reckonings—and very, very threatening weather.” The book also has the feel of the play “Our Town” as the characters seem both real and present while drifting in and out of the reader’s consciousness.

The greatest strength of this debut novel is the manner in which it conveys exquisite descriptive passages alongside dry humor emanating from the understated characters. Ted, the radio weatherman, acts as an omnipresent, omniscient prophet whose wry observations and warnings mirror the townspeople’s’ inner turmoil. That he was once married to Rose’s estranged sister, is one of the clever twists that make this novel so engaging. Each minor character has qualities that contribute to the whole from the disturbed young shoe repairman to the bank teller, and to the farm family that wants Rose’s land, their daughter Sylvie who was Lance’s girlfriend, and their grandfather who was turned into “something new” after being struck by lightning – each has a unique story that could stand on its own.

Walsh’s vivid descriptions of the approaching twister transported me to my teens and the Palm Sunday tornado that leveled much of Rossville, Indiana, a town dangerously close to where I then lived. Reading Twister made me rub my upper arms where I got twice weekly shots for my allergies just as I had then when the atmosphere made them tingle that long ago day. On the day of the storm Sylvie rides her bike home from Rose’s farm:
"The ride home was a path she knew like her own palm, but it felt like a foreign country. Flat stretches and curves and gullies, cawing birds and upturned leaves, the air smelling of ozone, a stitch in her side. The whole land knew a storm was coming, but not what to make of it. Wheeling crows didn't know which of them would be picked up and broken."

Walsh’s descriptive chops aren’t limited to weather only as shown when Sylvie’s mother removes laundry from her clothesline. "She felt a sheet, pulled a handful to her nose, and deemed it dry enough.  Light blue cloth slid off the line into her plastic basket, and a queen-sized vista opened in front of her where there had been percale." 

Twister seems longer than its 400 pages because of its measured, intentionally cautious pacing and because the gorgeous descriptions of the land that make the reader want to stop to read them aloud. It’s book for word lovers.

Summing it Up: Like the tornado Walsh describes, Twister is a powerful novel – one that strengthens as the reader falls into the characters' lives. It’s also a novel that offers “a queen-sized vista” of the world through the microcosm of a small Midwestern town. It’s a stunningly unpredictable novel just like the tornado it tracks. In Walsh’s words: "Tornado. From the Latin tonare, meaning to thunder, which is also related to astonish, detonate, stun.” Read Twister to fall into a measured world of astonishingly beautiful word pictures and multi-faceted characters.

Rating: 4 stars   
Category: Fiction, Gourmet, Book Club
Publication date: December 1, 2015
Author Website:
What Others are Saying:

You will have to read this novel for yourself to see how a brilliant writer has found the perfect form for evoking the effects of time and place and the forces of history and nature on the lives of human beings. As the title suggests, the movement of Twister is as inexorable as it is unpredictable. Genanne Walsh is a writer of extraordinary powers. The work of this novel is both raw and lush with poetry. Her characters live and breathe, and in their intersections, real truths are revealed.
 Laura Kasischke, author of Mind of Winter

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