Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Mercy of the Sky: The Story of a Tornado, by Holly Bailey

In The Mercy of the Sky: The Story of a Tornado (Viking, 2015) Holly Bailey describes the rampage of a tornado through areas surrounding Oklahoma City in 2013.  Using a panoramic technique that ranges back and forth from victims to weathermen to the approaching storm, Bailey takes an approach similar to that used by Kim Cross in What Stands in a Storm (2015). In ways this book is more satisfactory than.  The people described here are more varied, and the descriptions of what happens to them—whether good or bad—are more vivid. In one scene, a man describes his wife’s last words to him before she is ripped from his arms by tornadic winds.  In another, a mother’s children are torn away, and she searches despairingly for them when she wakes up in her destroyed house.  This book doesn’t inflict maudlin descriptions of funerals on us either.  But it spends too much time describing the histories of various weathermen who report on the tornadoes, although they are, when all is said and done, little more than spectators to the carnage.  One difference between the two books is that in Alabama tornadoes, although they frequently occur, do not achieve the F5 strength that tornadoes in Oklahoma achieve on a nearly yearly basis.  We read of several people who have lost several houses to tornadoes.  I’m not sure what I learned from this book.  Bailey offers adequate descriptions of how tornadoes form and of their movement across landscapes.  But the metaphysical question of “Why?”, especially regarding the human victims, seemingly goes unaddressed.

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