Galveston, by Paul Quarrington
Random House Canada, 247 pp, $34.95, hardcover.
Compared to fuzzy fetishists or baseball statisticians, storm chasers seem almost normal: their kick is to place themselves in the middle of the harshest weather they can find, then ask the gods for more. Sometimes they come back with stunningly beautiful photographs of rogue waves, tornadoes, and lightning. Sometimes, presumably, they don't come back at all.
Galveston, Toronto author Paul Quarrington's eighth novel, is about storm chasers. It's also about love, and fishing, and the kind of obsession that can only be quenched by death. It's named for the Texas town that was almost annihilated by a violent storm back in 1900. Waves five metres high lashed the beaches; the low-lying city was at most three metres above sea level. You can imagine the carnage.
To experience a similar storm is the dream of Quarrington's three protagonists, and they get their wish when Hurricane Claire hits Dampier Cay, a parched and little-known island in the Caribbean.
Jimmy Newton, who earns his keep by selling storm photographs, is a professional obsessive: weatherwise, he's the first and the best at finding the worst. Caldwell, whose first name we never learn, seeks psychic renewal in the wind and rain. Once, in a moment of profound despair, he was hit by lightning--but rather than stop his heart the bolt kicked it back to life. Beverly, whose last name we never learn, is looking for anything--sex, storms, sensation--that will erase the memory of her daughter's death.
Their dreams come true. Newton sees the biggest wave ever. Caldwell finds what he thinks might be love. Beverly has a tsunami of an orgasm. And then they die, hammered into nothingness by the hurricane they craved.
It's an odd premise for a novel, and a bizarre, hollow conclusion. One wants a different type of redemption for these characters, twisted though they might be. Nonetheless, the swell of Quarrington's literary skill holds the reader spellbound until the end; his story may be strange, but it's told in masterly fashion.