For those of us who think venturing into a tempest means attending the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, "Storm Chasers" is a revelation. It's a look into the world ...
by Paul Quarrington
St. Martin’s Press, 256 pp., $23.95
For those of us who think venturing into a tempest means attending the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, “Storm Chasers” is a revelation. It’s a look into the world of “weather weenies,” thrill-seekers who really come alive only when they’re on the trail of a Category 5 hurricane.
Shortlisted for Canada’s Giller Prize, Paul Quarrington’s fast-paced narrative is placed on the fictitious Dampier’s Cay, which once was a small island southwest of Jamaica and is now pretty much destroyed.
Assembled on that island are our dramatis personae: three storm chasers; two New York girls who have chosen just the wrong time and place for their vacation; and three islanders who operate the low-budget Water’s Edge resort.
Quarrington writes from the perspective of a rather nosy omniscient narrator who muses about what we’ll think of his characters when we “meet” them.
Two of the three storm chasers have been battered spectacularly by fate: Beverly was a baby in her high chair when her father disemboweled her mother, then committed suicide in the same fashion. Later, she loses her own daughter in a bizarre swimming accident. No wonder she is seeking oblivion in lightning strikes and storm surges.
Caldwell, another storm chaser, witnessed as a child the death of 35 people in a hurricane. Many years later, he wins millions in the lottery, but his family is wiped out by a transport truck that hits their Volkswagen Beetle.
It’s no surprise that these two lost souls are eager to be struck by lightning. So is Jimmy Newton, “Mr. Weather,” whose infatuation with storms has put him in the Guinness Book of Records. When Hurricane Claire strikes, Quarrington puts the reader literally in the eye of the hurricane as a highly dramatic sequence of events unfolds.
There are a few missteps. Some of the names seem a bit obvious (“Maywell Hope,” indeed), and a few things don’t make sense (Newton is supposed to be uniquely prescient about where storms will land — but somehow there’s a CNN crew on the other side of the island).
By turns crude and sweet, cynical and hopeful, “Storm Chasers” gives us an imperfect storm that’s as close as any rational person wants to get to a hurricane.
Melinda Bargreen is the Seattle Times music critic.