Regal House Publishing
Special Edition Hardcover (also available in paperback and as an eBook), 978-1646030712, 224 pages, $26.95
June 29, 2021
“Hurricanes are like baroque operas—you know sooner or later you’ll be in hell.”
Hurricanes bully their way toward shore and surrender their wreckage and devastation wherever they please, leaving no stone unturned and no life unchanged. Figurative hurricanes in life are no less destructive, but the wounds often fester and remain unhealed for years, producing their own wake of despair and grief.
For Julia Calaway, life has been a labyrinth of secrets, lacerated relationships, and frightening trauma within a fractured family. Lisa, Julia, and Claire are the Calaway girls, who grew up in Houston and are no strangers to storms, both in the Gulf and in their childhood home. In 2019, Hurricane Che is gaining strength and slowly heading toward Galveston, Texas. Julia decides to ride out the storm with her nine-year-old daughter, Gracie, in her family home that has weathered many blustery assaults over the years. Life, of course, throws more than one wrench into an already swirling mix of calamities and heartbreak for Julia and her sisters.
Nora Seton’s debut novel, Che and the Calaway Girls, delivers a rock-solid literary gold mine of stunning characterization and imagery, with a few plot lines vying for attention across the pages. As Hurricane Che approaches, Julia’s frail and dying father is unexpectedly sent home from the nursing facility, and her unhinged ex-husband unleashes his frustration for his failures by trying to destroy Julia piece by piece. As all these storms take shape and begin to discharge their woes, Julia reflects on the long-ago event that pierced her family with a projectile in the form of a despicable act that can never be forgiven or forgotten. The author expertly weaves the story lines together and fills in any chinks with some needed humor to balance the blow of violence, both past and present.
“I have never felt suspended in my own disbelief before.”
Despite the internal bruises from their past, all three Calaway girls are professionally successful. Julia is a fashion designer, providing the striking imagery of passively-aggressively stitching together life’s remnants into some form of beauty that can only occur when the Calaway sisters finally come together and face their past head on, even if any scrap of forgiveness remains locked behind the wall of their father’s betrayal and their late mother’s complicity.
Nora Seton’s writing style is almost a main character, with its apropos similes and deep excavation into the human soul through clever wordsmithing and the unique portrayal of anxiety, mental illness, and different coping mechanisms that only mask the mauled psyche. Amidst the chaos of Hurricane Che and the Calaway drama is Julia’s daughter, Gracie, with her pure voice of reason and innocent way of repairing the rips and slashes that her mother and aunts have clung to for too long. This well-written story shows that even though we often endure atrocities, we can eventually float above it all and take cleansing breaths, as long as love remains and secrets are laid bare.
Hurricane Che does not make landfall until this story is nearing the finish line, providing both Julia and the reader with adequate time to physically and mentally prepare for the barrage. While the storm eventually delivers its annihilating one-two punch of wind and water, the precluding events and the aftermath of any tempest, both figurative and literal, often cut the deepest and leave the most indelible marks on the body, mind, and heart.
Che and the Calaway Girls will resonate with any reader who enjoys a story where the characters form a sturdy and engaging foundation for the plot and where a deadly storm ends up being a pseudo-hero and savior for the Calaway girls.
Nora Seton is the author of nonfiction, short stories, poetry, book reviews, and Che and the Calaway Girls. She lives in Houston, Texas.