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Wide Blue Yonder

Jean Thompson

Wide Blue Yonder

Author:Jean Thompson
Publisher:Simon and Schuster

By Frank Diller | Posted 3/6/2002

Weather forecasts are the horoscopes of the 21st century--a mix of statistics, guesswork, and entertainment offering a future that's more interesting than the present. News organizations thrive on interest in the ever-changing elements; there are entire broadcast outlets that exist solely because of it. Their maps and statistics can both document a weather story and become the story itself.

Jean Thompson uses the weather in its natural and made-for-TV forms throughout her new novel Wide Blue Yonder. Like most major meteorological events, however, the payoff doesn't justify the hype.

In the summer of 1999, a jaded high-school student looks for romance and adventure in sleepy Springfield, Ill. She starts following (i.e., stalking) a cute police officer she saw at Taco Bell and, after a bizarre series of coincidences, the two meet and hook up. The teenager keeps the romance from her mother, a businessperson who is battling her ex-husband over the fate of his mentally ill uncle. (The old man spends his days watching and quoting the Weather Channel.) The plot lines gradually build to the simultaneous arrival of the remnants of Hurricane Floyd moving in from the East and a murderous criminal heading to town from the West. Needless to say, hijinks ensue.

Thompson, a 1999 National Book Award finalist for her short-story collection Who Do You Love, focuses each chapter on one of her four main characters--the girl, her mother, her great-uncle, and the criminal. They all have such remarkably distinct voices that you can almost forgive Thompson's lapses in credibility (such as the impression the novel leaves that Springfield, Ill., employs fewer cops than the Springfield in The Simpsons). But when all of the narrative elements converge, Wide Blue Yonder completely fizzles out.

The drama of weather lends itself to fiction. From the tumultuous storms of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights to the oppressive heat of Albert Camus' The Stranger, the natural world can influence and reflect a character's own nature. Wide Blue Yonder's sudden, saccharine happy ending, however, may drive readers to seek solace in the bland stability of current conditions and local forecasts.

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