Tornado Season by Courtney Craggett
Black Lawrence Press, 2019; 159 pp
Reviewed by Sarah J. Schlosser
Human relationships both possess their own climate and reflect the changing climate around them in Courtney Craggett’s collection of short stories entitled Tornado Season. The stories are mostly set in Texas and Mexico, placing the reader firmly in the path of tornadoes, heat waves, a rapidly (but not rapidly enough to help with international relations) evaporating Rio Grande, and even stretching out to include an inexplicable rash of pigeon deaths in London. Still, the tragedies of our changing world are not the least of Craggett’s characters’ worries; all of them are dealing with barely contained violence, either at the hands of a family member, illness, or bureaucracy.
Craggett’s prose is spare, but in that spare sense the voices of her characters sing through as purely as a breeze might through the wind chimes belonging to Claire’s neighbors in the title story, “Tornado Season.” She shuffles her voices between third, second, and first person narration without drawing attention to the shifts, venturing forward in time with what could be interpreted as predictions but instead plays as a reaching of possibility and hope within rounds of experience. Craggett not only shares scenes of changes in our landscape and in family dynamic but also dares to give us a glimpse of life in sculpture with the story “Statues”:
We built them in every plaza, large packs of horses and our favorite presidents and the founders of our cities. They . . . were beautiful to look at, and powerful and strong, and we picnicked in their shadows.
How were we to know the danger? We expected it from so many places, rising oceans and incurable diseases, but not from this. We weren’t prepared.
The day the statues came to life, we hid inside and watched through windows. In Texas herds of mustangs stampeded into buildings. Down in Mexico, monks swept through the streets, and their footsteps split the sidewalks and sent spiderweb cracks up the buildings. . . .
We decided to fight.
The beautiful aspect of all of the stories, in continuity, is that the protagonist in each and every one of them decides to fight, regardless of how entangling the prospect. Most of the opponents in “Statues” are too large or too resilient in construction to vanquish; in a story called “Carnival Ride,” a bereft mother takes her long-awaited hate to a broken-down teacup ride with a baseball bat when her child goes missing; in “Frontera Seca” a young man named Danny bucks the tradition of nothing ever changing between American and Mexican border officials by playing into a rumor that if the climate were to finally dry up the Rio Grande, the border would be eliminated in the eyes of both governments. Danny sandbags the Rio Grande, believing that if he helps climate change eliminate the border, his family will be reunited. His fight is solemnized with a prayer at completion, and the reader finds herself hoping that even if God or government cannot hear the prayer, the sandbags and the rumors will hold to keep his fight—and the other progressive struggles of the other stories—from execution in vain.