Bride of the Tornado
(2023) James Kennedy, Quirk Books, £15.99 / US$19.99, pbk, 336pp, ISBN 978-1-683-69327-7
Tornadoes… anyone who has sat through The Wizard of Oz knows that they can be both a natural hazard and a possible gateway to another world.
Here James Kennedy has managed to combine elements of what I imagine middle-town Midwestern America is like with something decidedly creepy and increasingly surreal. Out narrator is a nameless heroine whose lifestyle initially seems to be a typical teenager. She has an older sister named Cecilia, and her Mom and Dad are pillars of the community, if a little aloof. Nevertheless, it seems like the biggest outsider is our storyteller, whose seemingly ideal life belies an outsider struggling for connection with adults, her peers, and occasionally those parents and her sister.
Although the exact time the book is set in is unclear (one of the things that adds to the odd narrative), one of our narrator’s favourite things is a Walkman, which seems to place it around the 1980’s. Well, that and the lack of mobile phones.
When events take a strange turn we head into plot points that are not usual. We discover that the nameless town is besieged by tornadoes that devastate the environment and seem to isolate the place. Our storyteller hears others talk with reverence and excitement about ‘Tornado Day’, which is when each year a teenage boy, known as ‘the tornado killer’ is brought to everyone’s attention. His origin is unknown, an adult secret. His job is as the description depicts - he appears to be the only thing that stands between the town and total annihilation by the tornadoes, and he spends his time destroying the elemental forces before they reach the town.
He's not always successful. When a rogue tornado destroys the school, the summer begins early for the students and the high-school group spend their time smoking, drinking, having parties, having seΧ and sharing drugs. The two girls also try to spend their time avoiding the local teenage bully, Cuthbert Monks.
It is also at this time that, whilst watching the tornado killer at work, our sophomore high-school finds herself attracted to him, and it seems that the feeling is mutual, although the boy keeps his distance from everyone in the town whilst performing his duties - contact with others will make him ‘impure’ and reduce his powers in dealing with the tornadoes.
However, her obsession with the tornado killer leads our observer to uncover other secrets, such as the house on the edge of town lived in by “Mr Z”, where the telephone never stops ringing. There’s mysteriously strange symbols hidden all around town, and furthermore it seems that at the height of the tornado season the adults are secretly taking their teenage daughters to visit the sinister Mr Z.
All of this makes our narrator want to leave town, but she is stopped more than once. The town seems unwilling to let people leave - isolated, surrounded by almost sentient-like tornados, the populace seem resigned to the fact that the tornado killer is all that is saving them from ruin.
The book’s back cover makes much of the point that it seems to be ‘part Stephen King’s The Mist and part David Lynch’s television programme Twin Peaks’. Personally, I’d go for it being a Stephen King version of The Wicker Man, as the story becomes increasingly surreal. The beginning reminded me a little of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, although as we get towards the end there are more and more dream-like sequences involving our narrator and those around her, especially between her and the tornado killer, whose relationship becomes complicated. The pace builds until by the end things seem to be increasingly bizarre, but there is a resolution of sorts.
Summing up, Bride of the Tornado deserves credit for its depiction of small-town America and its embracing of the strange. Generally, Kennedy manages to keep the story’s own internal logic sound, even when at the end there seems to be a lot of different elements in motion, some of which may be real or may not. Whilst Bride of the Tornado is undoubtedly imaginative, I can see this surreal-ness being a deal-breaker for some readers, however. For readers who like strange things in their fiction, Bride of the Tornado is imaginative enough, and odd enough, to be worthy of a read.
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