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Meteorology

by Adin Bookbinder

Issue #117 February 16, 2009Buy Now!

Edited by Hannah Tinti



Excerpt

My father said that he could see a storm coming. He stood on the roof of our house. The black shingles were warped, the eavestrough dangled on one side, but he seemed stable enough. He’d climbed up via a ladder balanced on the rickety porch, secured with a rope lassoing the chimney. Now he kept his knees bent in his corduroy pants, his arms perpendicular to his sides, like a surfer’s. His white hair was sculpted into a terrific mess for which he could not blame the wind.

“It’ll be a brutal one,” he yelled, shielding his eyes with his hand.

It was nighttime, the sky black. The orange wind sock he’d installed on the roof peak hung limp and deflated, and the weather vane, pointing north, was not moving; a flick of an index finger against the rusting metal would have had more force than the evening’s slight breeze.

“Dad, come down,” I said gently. “Finn? Please?”

He didn’t always respond to “Dad,” didn’t always remember he was my father. He slept on the living room couch, the Weather Channel playing 24/7. Tonight, he was up on the roof because I’d threatened to go out after dinner. “The roads!” he had yelled. “In this weather! It’s not safe!” It was the middle of February, but the roads were desert-dry, the air above freezing. At twenty-two, I was my father’s daughter and guardian.



Adin Bookbinder

Adin Bookbinder’s fiction has appeared in the Seattle Review, Asian Pacific American Journal, and other magazines and was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters competition. A Toronto native, Adin spent a couple of years in the state shaped like a mitten. Now she lives in Chicago, where she’s working on her master’s in creative writing at Northwestern University and completing a novel.



Q&A by Hannah Tinti

HT: Where did the idea for this story come from?
AB: It’s hard to trace the origins of this one. For years, I had the idea of a daughter and father named Sunny and Finn. At first, Finn wasn’t sick; in a few drafts, the mother was still in the picture. Then I got the first line, and the rest of the story flowed from there. Along the way, I threw in a lot of personal experiences: a friend’s old house in rural Michigan, the restlessness I felt when I lived there, the appalling images of Hurricane Katrina on TV, a very cold Chicago winter when our pipes froze and our landlord wouldn’t turn up the heat.
HT: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
AB: I struggled to find a compelling reason for Sunny to make her decision. I also don’t usually write in first person, so it was hard to get comfortable with that voice.
HT: The character of the father, a brilliant but troubled former weatherman, is incredibly interesting. Can you share a little of how you went about building him on the page? Did you know the general idea and flesh him out in drafts, or did you know exactly what he was going to be like from the onset?
AB: My first vision of Finn was him up on the roof, tracking an imaginary storm. I couldn’t resist a character like that and set about following him to other places. It wasn’t hard to imagine how he’d behave in other settings. What was harder was imagining him before he got sick; since he was essentially a different person at that point, it took me a few drafts to figure out the healthy Finn.
HT: How much research did you do into schizophrenia for this story? Did you learn anything in your research that surprised you?
AB: Initially I didn’t do any research—I just wrote a draft of Finn acting erratically. Then I did a little Googling to make sure that his behavior was credible. I’m still not sure that he’s a case study.
HT: “Meteorology” seems to have as one of its themes: human beings trapped by external circumstance/environment. Weather and the description of weather then becomes very important. As is the passage of time as, with every new season, Sunny’s stifled life continues. What did you want the weather to symbolize? Was your intent to make any points about how we live in our environment?
AB: In very early drafts, I thought of this as my “global warming” story, but I don’t think that ended up as its main theme. Subconsciously, I guess I intended for the weather to symbolize Finn: wild and smothering and, these days, unpredictable. But the fact is that that’s the weather in Michigan—and every other cold climate I’ve lived in. As a Canadian, I can’t imagine keeping track of time without seasons, or of the weather being anything but a controlling force. While I write this, the snow is falling thickly outside, trapping my car in the parking lot and keeping me from going to buy groceries.
HT: The character of the boy-student acts as an effective juxtaposition to the narrator’s inability to travel. How did his character come about; was he there from the first draft or did he come about later?
AB: Various boy-suitors came and went from earlier drafts, but One Story’s excellent editors get the credit for pointing out that he is essential to Sunny’s story.
HT: At the end of “Meteorology,” Sunny has made an incredibly painful choice about her father, in order to have a fuller, less stressful life. How do you envision her future, off the page?
AB: I envision her someplace far away and warm, where she’s relaxed and tanned yet always feels a little guilty.
HT: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
AB: Write about your passions. That’s where the energy is.
HT: How long did it take you to complete this story?
AB: About two years, off and on. I toyed with the idea of these characters for another two years before that.
HT: What are you working on now?
AB: I’m reworking a novel called The Boy Soprano. And I’ve been writing a series of stories about houses and real estate—everyone’s favorite topic these days.