Review by Ellen Waters
The Weather in Kansas is a collection of short stories, but it’s more than that. It’s a pattern of lives, an explosion of tales from the very edges of the world. Through her bold, fascinating characters and their vast expanse of lives and loves, Crista Ermiya is able to truthfully bring the whole world – the joyous and the lonely, the mundane and the fantastical, the real and the imaginary – into dizzying perspective.
I’ll admit, starting the book I was sceptical as to what I would find of interest in a little boy living on a council estate in the 1970s. In our stories we expect to find heroes: powerful, exciting characters who overcome all adversity in excellent style. But what I grew to realise was that within this book, Ermiya has catalogued the real heroes of our world. The ordinary becomes extraordinary and you begin see the importance of those lives that are tossed to the side in favour of more conventional protagonists. The first story in the collection, 1977, weaves the tale of a young boy who becomes intrigued by a teenage girl – brought to London by her husband who then passes away – and sets up the rest of the collection as one of heart-breaking realism with a touch of the magical. Culture and gossip are threaded cleverly into the story through the different characters around Memet Ali and the community who seem to become one voice, at once comforting and threatening.
We move on to meet other unforeseen heroes. In Surf Scoter we are introduced to Vernon, a teenage boy who succeeds in leaving home and moving to the States in search of some forgotten dream his father left behind. My favourite part of this story, and perhaps of the whole book, was the ending where Vernon, after meditating on the sadness of having a set of ornamental ducks on their wall which have never had a chance to fly, takes the ducks away with him. In the last moments of the tale we see his mother receiving a package containing ‘her three ornamental ducks, well-travelled and gloriously world-weary, to hang back up on the wall’.
Later on we get the curious little story Adverse Camber, in which an unnamed person – perhaps even you yourself – rides in a car on a seemingly endless road. An equally anonymous person sits behind and neither character seems quite sure of the destination. There is a sense of wonder in the lack of speed, time or location restrictions in the story, carrying you along in a pleasant haze of darkness and snippets of conversation. The fact that your questions are never really answered just adds to its beauty.
The book is described as ‘fairy tales for the disenfranchised’. This is exactly right – within the pages you will find a host of strange and wonderful characters, all of them in some way lost, found and searching. All of them have a story to tell and the gentle mix of reality and magic within these tales make The Weather in Kansas an enchanting and touching read.