This reading group guide for Right after the Weather includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Carol Anshaw. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.IntroductionRight after the Weather
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takes place in the fall of 2016. Cate, a set designer in her early forties, lives and works in Chicago’s theater community. She has stayed too long at the fair and knows it’s time to get past her prolonged adolescence and stop taking handouts from her parents. She has a firm plan to get solvent and settled in a serious relationship. She has tentatively started something new even as she’s haunted by an old affair. Her ex-husband, recently booted from his most recent marriage, is currently camped out in Cate’s spare bedroom, in thrall to online conspiracy theories, and she’s not sure how to help him. Her best friend, Neale, a yoga instructor, lives nearby with her son and is Cate’s model for what serious adulthood looks like.
Only a few blocks away but in a parallel universe we find Nathan and Irene—casual sociopaths, drug addicts, and small-time criminals. Their worlds intersect the day Cate comes into Neale’s kitchen to find these strangers assaulting her friend. Forced to take fast, spontaneous action, Cate does something she’s never considered. In the aftermath, she’s left knowing the violence she is capable of.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Although Cate speaks positively about Maureen in early chapters, it becomes clear that there is some disconnect in their relationship and she has to start selling herself on the romance. Where did you notice this happening?
2. Discuss Cate’s friendship with Neale as compared to her relationships with Maureen and Dana beyond two being lovers, one a friend.
3. Cate would probably describe her relationship with Joe as an intergenerational friendship. What value do you think this friendship holds for each of them?
4. Graham is an “open-ended presence” (p. 25) both in Cate’s apartment and in her life. They have an unusual arrangement. How does it change through the course of the novel?
5. How are all of Cate’s relationships a way of building a family?
6. The author intersperses Cate’s perspective with Nathan’s point of view. What does this add to the narrative?
7. Cate comes to Neale’s rescue, but the experience leaves her isolated, and she realizes that in the aftermath “she has arrived on another side of everything. No one is over here with her” (p. 155). Why do you think she feels alone? Does she also, as Dana suggests, feel powerful? How do you think you would feel in her situation?
8. If you came upon a friend in the same situation, do you think you’d jump in to stop the assailant?
9. How does the incident in the kitchen change Neale and Cate’s relationship?
10. A theme of this novel considers what we owe to the people who have cared for us. Discuss how this theme plays out throughout the narrative.
11. At the end, Cate has pulled off the highway. What direction do you think her life will take from here?
12. Do you think she’s a slightly different person from who she is at the start of the book?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read Carol Anshaw’s previous book, Carry the One
, with your book group and discuss the similarities and differences between it and Right after the Weather
2. Discuss whether you ever done something that you had previously considered yourself incapable of doing.
3. Pull up a map of Chicago and plot the settings for scenes from the novel.A Conversation with Carol AnshawBoth Right after the Weather and your previous book, Carry the One, deal with the repercussions of a single life-changing act. Why do you think your work comes back to this?
A while back, in an interview, a writer said what follows violence is always interesting. In these two books I follow that trajectory in different ways. In both cases, characters are yanked out of their usual lives and set down in an entirely different place. That gives me a lot to work with.Much of this novel grapples with the aftermath of the 2016 election. Why did you choose to write about the topic? How did the election affect your writing process?
As I was writing the book, the election happened. There’s no way these characters would’ve been able to ignore it, so I had to put it in and use it to underline the characters in their relation to it.In addition to writing, you paint, so you have a foot in multiple artistic worlds. What kind of research did you do for Cate’s work in the theater?
I read a lot. I talked with several set designers and I went on a backstage tour of a Broadway theater. It was a world that was new to me so it was fiercely interesting. I hope I got it right.
How did you come to the shocking revelation Maureen shares with Cate on p. 20?
I needed something that would probably be a deal breaker in a budding relationship, something that would make staying in it very tentative.What was the most challenging scene to write?
The scene in the kitchen.In the course of working on this novel, did any of the characters’ actions or reactions surprise you?
Well, of course I’m writing book so surprising me is not an option, but the character I had to keep figuring and refiguring was Neale. How would she react to being attacked? To Cate’s rescue? To her parents’ stepping in? To her husband’s return?Why did you choose not to dramatize the scene where Cate rescues Neale?
I did. I just broke it up into pieces of flashback. That way I got to both show it and run it through Cate’s memory.In writing the scene where Neale is assaulted, did you consider what you would do in Cate’s situation?
Every step of the way.Instead of chapter numbers, you give each a word or two. Can you explain these?
I put these in as I start to write a section. I almost never change them later. They’re like little pushpins for me. When I want to go back to a section, I can find it right away. I can build out the section from that small point.Of all the characters in this novel, which would you most like to know in real life?
Cate.What do you hope readers take away from this novel?
That people, when pressed, are able to come up with heroic moments.What are you working on next?
I’m writing a novel about a woman from her twenties through her seventies.