Renee Manfredi's Above the Thunder is a thoughtful and complex novel, with more depth than is first apparent as the story develops. It chronicles the coming together of a divergent group of people who meet, share their lives for a period of time, form a family and then, inevitably, move on. Grace is found in their intimate moments, the loving manner in which the characters touch each other, forming attachments that transcend time and place.
Widow Anna Brinkman has created a new life for herself since her beloved husband’s death. When Anna and Hugh’s daughter Poppy, who left the family home years before, leaves a phone message asking to visit, Anna is thrown into confusion and anger. Anna thought she had made peace with Poppy’s absence, understanding her daughter’s longtime struggle with addiction. And there is another complication: a granddaughter, 12-year-old Flynn, whom Anna has never met. Now in her early fifties, Anna does not have the emotional resources to give over her days to Poppy’s drama. After all the expectations of the impending visit, Poppy can’t manage the trip to Anna’s after all, but her husband, Marvin, and Flynn show up on Anna’s doorstep one evening. Like it or not, Anna’s life has changed forever.
Jack and Stuart are two gay men who believe they have at last accomplished the perfect relationship, devoted to each other except for the handsome Jack’s occasional dalliance. When Jack is diagnosed HIV positive, their perfect union falters and Jack is forced to make his own way without Stuart’s help. When Jack joins a support group run by Anna, they have an immediate connection, one of those immediate recognitions where each person seems so familiar. Anna is key to Jack’s journey toward real meaning in his life. Even after he reconnects with Stuart and they resolve many of their issues, Jack’s friendship with Anna remains steadfast and primary.
Carefully placed in the midst of these adult characters, Flynn is at the core of this novel, a bright, intuitive little girl with an understanding far beyond her years. Each adult in the story who comes into Flynn’s orbit, including Jack and Stuart, become part of the larger whole, turning the narrative into a parable for the true meaning of family. The ethereal and possibly ill-fated Flynn is an anachronism, riddled with dark fears and fierce imaginings, yet dear to all who meet her. Through Flynn, Manfredi’s characters access their finer selves, the deepest places where forgiveness and generosity coexist.
While Anna undergoes profound personal changes, loving Flynn and the particular others who have become her nuclear family, she reaffirms her own intuition in mothering Flynn. The reader is transported through the truly significant emotions that govern our days: joy, grief, compassion and love. Anna evolves as a woman who has freely opened her heart, facing the consequences of her actions in choosing life over loss. Renee Manfredi skillfully evokes our awareness of those human connections that sustain us and, more importantly, the realization that in life there is change. And where there is change, there is acceptance.