Sarah O'Connor

Writer – Playwright – Cannot Save You From The Robot Apocalypse

CW: suicide, derogatory epithets, sports rape, peer pressure, strong language, racism, xenophobia, social injustice, war trauma, disability, toxic masculinity. 

I received this book from The Next Best Book Club in exchange for an honest review.

Wow does River Weather ever pack a punch! This collection of short stories is set in Northern Virginia set mostly in the late 90s, ranging in stories that are dark and difficult to stomach at times. Overall the collection is about boys and men, characters who are victims of the toxic masculinity that infects and affects them all, their stories filled to the brim with a lot of difficult topics and themes (just look at that content warning above). It’s gritty and sad, filled with characters you won’t necessarily like but will feel for. A fantastic collection, I look forward to what more MacKenzie has to write! 

You can read my thoughts on each of the stories below:

Scenarios – 4 stars

A story about kids talking about a hypothetical suicide scenario and their comments on the likelihood that it would work. Sort of darkly comedic, this did feel like a conversation kids close to becoming teenagers would talk about. What can I say, kids talk about weird, dark stuff sometimes.

Kalim Mansour – 4 stars

A boy drives with his father in his new car, trying to understand him and becomes curious on a mysterious Saudi car salesman. The descriptions in this story were very clear and I felt like the characters were very well developed, but I had some trouble understanding the fixation with Kalim Mansour. Fantastic ending though, it filled me with dread!

Coyotes – 4 stars 

Some Coyotes try to trick a poor old blind dog named Roomba. Short, I really enjoyed the meaning behind this one.

A Non-Smoking House – 3 stars

Two contractors fix up an old Victorian house for a rich and privileged client. I liked the imagery of this one but I disliked Patterson so much that I couldn’t feel much sympathy for him. Good descriptions nonetheless!

Rowdy – 5 stars

Jimmy reconnects with his old high school football friend Reese, regaling their old football days and repressed trauma. I really enjoyed this one, the themes of priding toxic masculinity while being a victim of it were intense. A very interesting and compelling story, my favourite so far.

Swiss Seat – 4 stars

Three boys find a zipline in the woods and decide to use it. This story was hard at times, some racist conversations that the characters acknowledge it, and the collection is marketed as exploring race in Northern Virginia as it changes in the 90s so I guess it fits. Very disturbing end that really shook me.

Sit a Horse – 5 stars

Gabe goes to visit his old friends Charlie and Simone, breaking eight months of sobriety beforehand. This story was a trip, literally. Dark, disturbing, confusing and I absolutely adored it!

The Fire – 3 stars

A very short story, the lack of punctuation made it difficult for me to figure out who was talking when at times.

River Weather – 4 stars

The titular story in the collection, Terry’s wife Cynthia hasn’t come back to their home in the forest, which a man in Qatar has just purchased. I liked the feel of this one, the twists, and the ending. I could visualize everything very easily and the characters kept me interested.

Up from Grundy – 4 stars

Byron tells Coach he’s done with wrestling and on their way home Coach brings them on a detour to see what a real man and hero is. Great themes of American pride, heroism, and what happens after veterans come home. A haunting look into these characters, the guilt and toxicity of Coach near the end was disturbing and I felt for Byron.

Japanese Maples – 3 stars

The last story, and a short one at that. Filled with superstition I really liked this as an ending to the book, I only wish it had been longer as it felt like it ended too soon.

58738622._SY475_Publication: December 7th 2021
Publisher: Alternating Current Press
Pages: 172 pages (Paperback ARC)
Source: The Next Best Book Club (Thanks Lori!)
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Contemporary
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤

“As the D.C. city sprawl moved west along the banks of the Potomac in the late 1990s, what had once been a rural backwater was rapidly transformed into a dystopian suburbia of suspicion, greed, and naked self-interest. This collection examines the resulting blends of money, race, and class that have come to define the ongoing metamorphosis of Northern Virginia. In “Kalim Mansour,” a boy trying to understand his father fixates on a mysterious Saudi car salesman. In “Rowdy,” a man who was sexually assaulted by his high school football team still romanticizes their masculine code of behavior. In “A Non-Smoking House,” two contractors battle the realtors who control their livelihood as the ties that bind civil behavior pull tight, and then snap. Each of MacKenzie’s stories explores the incommensurable moments that lie at the heart of shared experience, the yawning gaps that separate us, and our desperate attempts to close them.

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