The Passing Storm
The Passing Storm is a sensitively rendered and readable novel about found family and the importance of grieving wholeheartedly. But the problem with it is that it is merely ‘nice’; touched with ‘As you know, Bob’ style dialogue and some broad characters, it falls short of a definite recommendation.
Thirtyish Rae Langdon works with her father, Conner, helping him run the family ranch, which is slowly falling into disrepair Consumed with grief over the death of her teenage daughter Lark in a wintertime drowning accident (an echo of her own mother’s death in a blizzard years before), Rae becomes obsessed with signs that someone has been on their property. Her only friend is Yuna, who works at the local craft store.
Those signs – footprints in newly fallen snow – actually come from a teenage neighbor, eighteen-year-old Quinn Galecki, whose parents threw him out of the house on his birthday. Rae and Conner decide to take Quinn in; Quinn was a friend of Lark’s, and having him around helps bring Lark back to life again. Rae’s innumerable regrets about Lark – with whom she was fighting because, among other things, Rae never told Lark who her biological father was – still come to the surface while Quinn is around. And yet Quinn – whose alcoholic parents always considered him a burden – and the Langdons nonetheless form a family, helped along by a huge blizzard. Healing begins from there, and Rae even starts a tentative relationship with Griffin Marks, whose niece was present at Lark’s death. When Quinn’s biological parents threaten this burgeoning family unit, an ugly truth about Lark’s origins and something Rae’s never been able to face up to comes to the surface.
The Passing Storm is a slice of women’s fiction that functions decently, with a tough heroine and an engaging teenage protagonist, but the prose never rises above the just-average, often coming off as clunky. But one thing Nolfi is great at is establishing a feeling of chilly, ice-cold wintertime encroaching and covering everything with frozen precipitation. Everything in the book feels cold, so cold that you can’t imagine a universe like this one during the summer time.
It’s wonderful to watch Rae blossom. Closed off and entombed by her guilt, she begins to break free and open up to the possibility of living. I liked her, and Quinn, and most of the main characters here. But the villains are terribly broad caricatures with no depth or sensitivity to them. Considering what they do I understand why the author wouldn’t want to make them sympathetic, but there’s a way to give a character depth without turning them into clownish, craven images that are so totally see-through they might as well be made of stained glass.
The good and the bad mingle, fittingly, in The Passing Storm. The book is imperfect but not bad – just like the hundreds of snowflakes littering the ground during the course of the story.
Note: This book contains the violent on-page death of a child and references to pre-book rape and parental death.
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