Award-winning playwright and screenwriter Patrick Gabridge has written a first-person first novel about a black woman and made it believable - an enviable accomplishment.
Tornado researcher Victoria Thomas is a scientist with a head for mysteries, and that’s what she encounters out of a clear blue sky while tracking the passage of a storm: footprints, man and dog, that should have ended when the winds roared through. Both entities should been swept into the mighty maelstrom. But the facts are stubbornly in opposition to what should have been. The footprints move on, unhindered, after the storm’s hurried departure. Victoria sees the prints on two separate occasions and is hooked, determined to find out what is behind the “odd collection of coincidences.” She proves her mettle early on by leaping into a dumpster to retrieve a pair of blue jeans, “a physical talisman of my mystery man.”
What she learns challenges every assumption her science is based on and blows through her lonely heart like the desert twister in which she first gets a glimpse of the enigmatic Ben and his dog, Kimat: “”I expected to see them whirling somewhere in the debris cloud. They should have been pulverized. But they stood unmoved, triumphant.”
Victoria begins slowly, painstakingly tracking Ben and Kimat. Conversation is not Ben’s long suit, but he gradually reveals bits and pieces as he and his stalker move through Tornado Alley on foot and bicycle. “The exchange that flows through me,” Ben explains, “leaves me with energy, power, completeness. It is my food.” Claiming to be older than the hills they are surrounded by and to derive supernatural sustenance from the glow and howl generated by tornados, Ben has no concern about being believed. He simply is, like a force of nature, and Victoria becomes swept up in his mythology, and finally, in love with his fierce independence.
Victoria tries to make Ben and his incredible quest fit the size of her container, but she comes to understand that he needs tornados to survive, and that trying to box him into her life will not work. Their one attempt at altering the chain of events ends in disaster, forcing both of them to face up to their vulnerabilities. Ben wants to help the tornado victims, Victoria wants him to stay with her, but both know he has to go back to the long pilgrimage he has begun. In her frustration, Victoria muses, “Genesis had it right. Adam and Eve were happy before eating from the tree of knowledge.” Maybe she would be better off if she could “un-know,” return to her old life, pretend somehow that she and her mystery man had never met.
In the end, they work out a compromise that allows Ben to warn people of impending storms instead of merely feeding off them, and Victoria to stay in communication with him so that neither of them have to be completely alone.
This book is deftly written and one hopes it will garner much deserved attention.