The Stormchasers: A Novel by Jenna Blum (Plume; $15.00; 369 pages)
“…while they are crossing the grass their movement startles a flock of birds in the vacant lot next to the motel, and she stops to watch them rise as one and circle the sky. It seems an omen of something. Karena just doesn’t know what.”
With The Stormchasers, Jenna Blum has delivered a stunning and magical story about the price of family. Karena Jorge is a twin whose brother Charles suffers from bipolar disorder. The condition causes Charles to act out in ways, both verbal and physical, that are harmful to both himself and those around him. It seems that medications don’t work to alleviate his symptoms, they simply replace his anxieties with new physical maladies. The only thing that appears to help the erratic, high-IQ Charles calm down is to move around the center of the U.S. chasing active storms.
“Charles is, after all, a genius… But trying to make sense of what he’s saying now is like hearing a piece of music with one wrong note played over and over…”
We join the Jorges in 1988, as Karena is about to depart for college and experience a respite from being her brother’s keeper. But then Charles disappears and Karena is aware that at some point she will need to do her best to find him. It takes her 20 years, 1 month and 6 days to do so, and only when she has assumed the identity of a reporter writing a story on stormchasers. This is not, however, the point at which the story ends, it is, rather, where it actually begins…
The Charles of 2008 is a very troubled character – in fact, he’s mentally disturbed, if not fully insane. Karena believes, to her dismay, that she loves her brother more than she will ever love anyone who will enter her life. This means that she will either destroy her own life as his caretaker, or let Charles – who is jealous of anyone receiving Karena’s attentions – do it for her. There seems to be no way out until, incredibly, the recklessness of the Jorges places them in trouble with the law. It’s then that both Karena and Charles must locate their moral centers and the path to a better life.
“…sometimes when you throw yourself upon the world, it will hold you up.”
Jenna Blum does a masterful job of instructing the reader on the beauty of storms created by nature: “She never would have known about this wild and violent beauty, (had she) not experienced it firsthand. She stands in the road, watching, for a long, long time.” By analogy, she teaches us that the storms in our lives must sometimes be approached directly – literally finding the eye of the storm – rather than avoided. For, once an active storm breaks, we’re gifted with a new ability to appreciate the quiet serenity of life.