(3 of 3)
What might have been a competent formulaic romance earns an added luster in A Student of Weather (Counterpoint; 368 pages; $24) thanks to Canadian author Elizabeth Hays' deft variations on and additions to familiar themes. Two sisters, Lucinda, 17, and Norma Joyce Hardy, 8, fall in love with the older man who visits their father's farm in Saskatchewan during the 1930s to study local plants and Dust Bowl weather patterns. Maurice Dove ought to fall for the beautiful and virtuous Lucinda, who runs the household in place of her deceased mother, but it is Norma Joyce, plain and engagingly clever, who snares his attention over succeeding decades, never as husband but eventually as father of her child.
This saga of unrequited love is distinguished especially by Hays' fine descriptive flourishes: "By the middle of March, it was bright at seven in the morning, the light warmer, less metallic than in February, almost petalled, the way it softened the branches of the apple trees rather than striking against them." --P.G.
HEAVY-BREATHING FAMILY MELODRAMA Boy Still Missing
Beware of novels that allow the reader to open at random to sentences such as this: "Without any signs to steer me, I could only keep plodding along into the uncertainty of my future." The plodder here is one Dominick Pindle, a Massachusetts teen who makes the big, cinematic oopsy of falling for his father's other woman. Imagine the consequences, the confrontations! Sadly, you would probably do a better job than John Searles has in Boy Still Missing (Morrow; 292 pages; $25), a back-to-the-early-'70s drama of family misery and social devolution. It's an action-packed tale but light in every other way, although its tone can be very, very heavy. Abortion figures in, and much is made of changing mores in the era just preceding Roe v. Wade, but the quest for relevance founders in a swamp of hyperspecific, unnecessary stage directions and commercial-fiction panting about uncertain futures and what have you. So wait for the movie (the rights have already been bought). Then don't go see it. --W.K.