Tucker Nash’s life is about to be hit by a hurricane. As an actual hurricane heads towards South Carolina, Tucker learns that his wife is suffering from a crippling depression that could upend his marriage. When they go to couple’s therapy it unearths more than issues with their marriage. Tucker remembers one of the only good times he had with his father, which sends him on a journey to mend his life. When he meets a car mechanic named Earl Pitney on his travels, he might just bring another man down with him. Like a hurricane, if the wind doesn’t get you, the rain will, and Tucker has many paths ahead of him: destruction, or redemption, or a little bit of both.
Schwab cleverly uses the hurricane metaphor, and thankfully keeps it subtle. In a book about a man searching for his father, Schwab describes Hurricane Hugo as “a precocious child who dipped southward and grew rapidly into a tropical depression just off the Cape Verde Islands, following in the footsteps of some very ferocious ancestors.” This is a story that is about healing fractured relationships – especially between fathers and sons, and reenacting the bad habits of your forbears, even one who’s distant and seemingly forgotten.
Technically, the back side of the hurricane is when the wind changes direction – once the eye of the hurricane passes over and the back end of the hurricane passes through. The idea then is that there is a balance to every storm, and what might seem like chaos to begin with can reverse trajectory to where you were all along. Tucker’s life follows this motif – chaos leading to equilibrium. He’s eventually able to find balance, even if there’s been some emotional destruction along the way. Schwab is a solid, eloquent writer on his main themes, whether he’s writing about the power of a literal storm, or an emotional one.
A weakness in the book is that Tucker is a bit clueless to a fault – he’s ineffectual and absorbed in a job that’s not quite unique enough for readers to care. Of course, that’s part of the point. Tucker is flailing because he’s so out of tune with his life – “a guy who couldn’t pick his kids out of a lineup,” his wife complains – but he’s a little difficult to root for, especially when everyone around him is more interesting. But what makes this an intriguing dynamic is you’re actually rooting for the hurricane. You don’t want his life to be destroyed, but you certainly want him to come to his senses.
All in all, Back Side of a Hurricane is a calming read; it’s quietly immersive as you become involved in these characters’ lives, but the story never becomes overly dark or maudlin. It’s a hopeful novel about healing a life in disarray, and how redemption can come from looking at your life and relationships with a new set of eyes. The novel brings the adage “the calm after the storm” to life, and after reading the book, the reader may just feel a similar sense of calm as Schwab’s lead character.
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