A Mystery Wrapped in Race, Class and Silence

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Deborah E. Kennedy

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Beth Behler

TORNADO WEATHER
By Deborah E. Kennedy
308 pp. Flatiron Books. $24.99.

Entropy eats at Colliersville, Ind., the town at the center of Deborah E. Kennedy’s moving first novel. Teenagers prowl the edges of a defunct theme park. Apartments crumble under poverty and neglect. The plot point that seems, at first, to connect the disparate people in this book is the disappearance of a girl: 5-year-old Daisy Gonzalez, who vanishes after school one late spring day when a tornado threatens — when cottonwood seeds float like “dry snow” and thunderheads make “knobby purple towers.” Daisy’s loss introduces us to a town where loss is already everywhere.

But if Daisy provides the forward momentum that keeps the reader leaning in, turning pages, her disappearance is in no meaningful way what this novel is about. Much more than the mystery promised in its opening pages, “Tornado Weather” focuses on the volatile forces of class and race that entangle people and divide them. Each chapter follows different characters, and Kennedy expertly manipulates point of view to reveal the nodes in her complex, interlocking plotlines. We see the local dairy that is shut down for hiring illegal Mexican immigrants. We see the local boy who dies in Iraq, and the grocery store employee who hears animals speak but says little himself.

In fact, the book’s real hardware might be described as its network of secrets and silences. What characters can’t or won’t say to each other allows Kennedy to demonstrate the power of knowledge along with its equally powerful counterforce, ignorance. Some of this is the stuff of small-town gossip, as when best friends fail to divulge what they know of the other’s husband’s infidelities. But Kennedy troubles these fissures in riskier and timelier ways. The forced intimacy of a town where “everybody…

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