“Tornado’s Siren” by Brooke Bolander
Reviewed by Matthew Nadelhaft
This week’s story at Strange Horizons is by relative newcomer Brooke Bolander, who is clearly poised to take the world by storm. Her story “Tornado’s Siren” is one hell of a strong effort – although I have to confess to a few petty gripes. For starters, the title bothers me; I feel it would be more effective and poetic as “Tornado Siren” See there – no apostrophe “s.” I told you my gripes were petty.
The difficulty with devoting a review to a single story is giving enough detail without lurching into spoilers, so I’ll say little about the tale’s plot except that it concerns a tornado falling in love with young Rhea (since that information is conveyed in the story’s first line, I feel pretty sure I haven’t given away anything the author will kill me for). So, right away you have a strange and promising premise worthy of Kelly Link or Rob Shearman.
Just as quickly you find writing of impeccable quality, showcased by lines like “It comes late in the afternoon, after school and graham crackers and the four o’clock showing of Jeopardy. The sidewalks sweat like her father after a jog and the sky scums over with bruised purple-black clouds.” There isn’t much in a passage like that not to be jealous of. It’s reading work likes this that makes me despair over my own abilities, so the pleasure of finding an amazing story by a writer like Bolander is a two-edged sword. All I can do is take the high ground, give the author the praise she deserves, and mumble to myself afterwards about at least having demonstrated my integrity.
What follows the blockbuster first paragraph is an intriguing tale, laced with beautiful and often humorous prose, as Rhea grows up with a tornado as her guardian angel – and stalker. Like Shearman, Link, Benjamin Rosenbaum and too few others, Bolander is able to fill this strange premise with insight and passion. Aside from the possessive form in the title, my only complaint about the story was that it felt a bit too long, leading me to mistake a climax in the middle for the ending. Of course, the actual ending is everything you want in a conclusion, it just comes after, perhaps, too much detail about Rhea’s mostly-uneventful life. Like a house in the path of a tornado, the story might benefit from a little less loose furniture. But still, the structure, foundation, and even the décor are strong enough to withstand anything a critic can throw at it. This story shines no matter how you read it.