Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King

Still Life with Tornado Collage.jpg

A feminist, surrealist YA title in shades of Vonnegut. Ostensibly the story of a 16yo girl calling out her family on its toxicity and lies, TORNADO is really a bold invitation for young women to welcome, love, and nurture of all their different selves.

An invitation to tell themselves and those around them the truth.

An invitation do the work they love even when others undermine it–or them.

In the present, Sarah is avoiding school and art, following a homeless man in her neighborhood, and frequently bumping into her 10yo, 23yo, and 40yo selves. She hasn’t seen her brother Bruce since the family took a trip to Mexico when she was 10. Interspersed with modern day chapters are short monologues from her mother’s point of view as well as chapters for each of the days of the Mexico trip.

But what makes this book go beyond an issue book is King’s mastery of motif. For example, on the Mexico trip, the ocean is so churned up that it’s not clear or blue but dull brown and full of churned up seaweed, like a toilet bowl full of diarrhea, according to Sarah.

Later, as she learns the truth of her family, she talks about living in a toxic stew of lies and ruin…but the images of the ocean in Mexico so well established that it creates echoes seamlessly.

The book has hundreds of layers like that, overlapping images and phrases and ideas that come back again & again to create new light, new energy, new meaning.

TORNADO is an impressive feat from a leading literary writer.

Disclaimer: I moved this book up on my TBR after King told me and my students recently on a Skype visit that this book “hit too close to home” because she’d stayed in an abusive marriage herself.
As a result, I find myself keenly aware that this book is also a story of domestic violence–even though that violence happens only on the edges of Sarah’s awareness. But to say it’s a massive influence on everything in the story is an understatement, so it probably deserves a heads up.


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