Sometimes a novel is just like the weather.


Is a storm brewing, or is all just a prelude to nothing more dangerous than sunshine. Photograph: J  Gerald Crawford
Is a storm brewing, or is it all just a prelude to nothing more dangerous than sunshine. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford

I WAS WATCHING the weather report on Television the other afternoon, and it reminded me of a lot of novels I have read during the past few years.

The station had broken into its regular programming to let us know that were under a severe weather alert and facing a dire situation.

Hard rains.

Hail on the way.

Rotation in the clouds.

Reports of funnel clouds.

A tornado watch, then a warning.

The sky had turned black, and thunder was rumbling in the distance.

It was everything a good mystery or thriller should be.

That’s what the images on the television screen revealed.

That’s what the meteorologist was saying.

It looked and sounded as though the end of the world was upon us.

I glanced out the window.

The sky was blue.

The sun was shining.

Nothing was happening.

The TV reporter was on-the-scene, and his voice grown frantic.

A sheriff’s deputy near Beckville had called in and said the tornado was on the ground.

He waited.

The reporter waited.

We waited.

Nothing happened.

But hang on again.

Strong winds were blowing through the streets of Tenaha with hurricane force. The little town might not survive.

The town waited.

The people hunkered down and waited.

We waited.

Nothing happened.

For an hour and forty-seven minutes, we hung on with broken fingernails, expecting disaster and fearing the worst.

Then the powers that be lifted the storm warning.

They cancelled the tornado watch.

The meteorologist smiled into the camera as though he had been Paul Revere and saved us all from an advancing catastrophe.

And the station resumed its normal programming.

That’s little different from so many novels I’ve read. The authors promise all sorts of intrigue and secrets, enigmas and threats.

But the plot runs off in one direction. The subplots all run off in another. And the characters are stacked like cords of deadwood in the corner.

When it’s all said and done – when I read the final word on the final page – nothing has happened.

And just like it was when I sat on the edge of my chair during the weather report, I can’t get my hour and forty-seven seconds back.

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