This book ‘found me and twisted around me like a cat asking for a bowl of milk’ – to borrow from the book. It played with me and drew me in until I would have to ‘pause and quiver’ at the sheer beauty of it. It toyed with me, ‘scooting around me and pulling at my ears. It threw up the dust off the road into my face, to turn me around, and when I leaned into it, it suddenly let go and pushed at me from behind, laughing.’ It punched me in the nose and then poked me in the eye. Because, every time I thought I knew where it was going, and was about to sigh, ‘it struck me with something about as expected as a megalosaurus lumbering up Parker Head.’
Turner Buckminster and his family have moved to Phippsburg, Maine – from Boston. He feels ‘exiled by fate from a place he loved’ and is further exiled as the story progresses. He finds that everything is different, including things he has taken for granted, like the way a baseball is thrown, and swimming. Turner is about 13 years old, and the book is a journey through the storms and tribulations of adolescence, of recognising frailties in parents, and self, of having to find a moral code of your own, and most importantly that establishment of relationships outside the family circle that may force you into taking a stand against your family.
The weather is a driving force in the telling of this story. There is the veneer of religion but the real greater force is nature. There are people who understand the weather and the tides, and those who don’t. Some of the strongest images in the book, the most telling about character, use weather:
Lizzie leaves after talking with Turner, and ‘The sea breeze came down from the leaves and followed at her heels, jumping up now and again and frisking all around.’
Turner, after noticing Mrs Hurd’s shutters have been painted green, ‘The sea breeze, wearing its overcoat, followed him all the way until he closed the door on it. Then it tipped up into the sky and spread out, looking for a maple it could scorch or a beech it could blanch. It found the maple and went about its business, so that if Turner looked out his front doo, he might have seen the maple just past First Congregational shiver some and then coldly begin to burn into reds.’
When Turner’s father sets yet more reading and summarising work, ‘Outside the window, the sea breeze dropped and slunk away.’
Mr Stonecrop ‘blustered out of the house, and Turner and his father watched him take take the street by right of possession. There wasn’t a sea breeze anywhere near him, and if there had been one, it would have been trampled into the dust of Parker Head until it wasn’t anything but a puff or two.’
And so it goes, the weather a character of mythical proportion, guiding and prodding and ever changing, both predictable and unpredictable, and certainly inevitable.
I love the way that Gary Schmidt draws upon the great classics of storytelling – Shakespeare in the Wednesday Wars, and The Aeinid and the eternal theme of conflict in this. He makes them real, and gives them a currency for readers of today. This book lingers for a long time, and like great food, has a compelling after taste. I’m still trying to sort out all of the flavours.
For information about The Aeinid go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeneid
For information about Gary Schmidt go to: http://www.hmhbooks.com/schmidt/
For a review of The Wednesday Wars go to: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/556136.The_Wednesday_Wars