Indoors or out, actual or perceived, the weather in Emily Saso’s assured debut novel tends toward the weird and tumultuous. Set in a contemporary but unappealing Toronto – “a place bloated with condo developments and a subway line bursting at the welds, where the rents are as high and threatening as storm clouds” – during the height of a sweltering summer, the novel’s milieu recalls the dolorous, edge-of-despair fiction of Cordelia Strube (where the ironic “Toronto the Good” is supplanted by an earnest “Toronto the Deeply Discouraging”). In The Weather Inside, though, Saso is a few degrees more optimistic; she injects numerous lighthearted scenes with a welcome allowance for growth and renewal.
At the beginning of what will turn out to be a trying week, narrator Avery Gauthier has already lost momentum. She resides in a small, stinky apartment (“a shoebox – a size-14 Kenneth Cole”) and has moved from a dead-end job to a merely lousy one. She’s been in a completely sex-free marriage for one year and, along with Henry, her disgruntled husband, regularly attends a group for recovering Jehovah’s Witnesses. That’s the good news.When Henry returns to the fold and bids Avery adieu, the jilted wife is forced to confront a surfeit of her own psychological tics, visits from odd neighbours, an incompetent TV weatherman, the return of her devout mother after more than a decade, collect calls from her imprisoned uncle (who wants to make amends for his sexual abuse), and memories of her beloved deceased father. She also begins to see her apartment ceiling as a malignant tumour, spots snow in the middle of summer and in impossible places, and absconds with an iconic piece of Canadian art.
A large, zany cast, a broad range of topics and themes (including grief, forgiveness, anger, sexual abuse, and the weight of history), and wacky plot developments could easily confound any writer. Except for a somewhat rushed and tidy conclusion, Saso juggles the book’s disparate elements with skill and gusto. Acerbic, anti-religious Avery and her “unhealthy coping mechanisms” are a delight to follow.