From Publishers Weekly
In this beguiling study of meteorology and its discontents, Svenvold, a poet and author of Elmer McCurdy: The Misadventures in Life and Afterlife of an American Outlaw, spends the month of May in the colorful caravan of tornado chasers as they pore over weather data in strip-mall parking lots, drive thousands of miles through the Oklahoma-Nebraska corridor searching for thunderheads and agonize over which of the many storm clouds darkening the horizon to pursue. It's a classic American mixture of high-tech fetishism and barnstorming entertainment, populated by sober meteorologists with the latest forecasting gadgetry and jargon, an IMAX filmmaker hoping to drive his tanklike "Tornado Intercept Vehicle" into the whirlwind and local weathercasters who stage each tornado watch as a "low-tech reality show the size of central Kansas." The author situates it in the cult of "catastrophilia," a "commodified version of the... sublime" visible in everything from "torn porn" videos to the Weather Channel's marketing of weather as consumer accouterment. Svenvold's usually engaging chronicle of "extreme waiting" for funnel clouds occasionally lapses into extreme writing ("Here was the anti-storm, weather as non-weather," he broods during an unwelcome bout of clear skies), and his impulse to suck up all information in his path sometimes leads to digressions. But his wry, supple prose vividly captures a heartland made up of the awe-inspiring and the absurd. Agent, Sarah Chalfant. (May)
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*Starred Review* Svenvold is poet-in-residence at Fordham University, and his poetic pedigree is evident on every page of this exploration of the strange, seductive lure of catastrophic weather: "Air is water's ghost, flowing, like water, through its seasons." Svenvold tagged along with one veteran storm chaser, Matt Biddle, in 2004, but this isn't merely a biography of Biddle. It's a look at the world in which he lives, a world filled with scientists and mavericks and hucksters. For some, chasing tornadoes is a career; for others, like stock-car-racer Steve Green (who saw a business opportunity in driving headlong into a tornado), it offers a chance to make a buck. For others, like Biddle, it's an obsession. If you're a fan of movies about extreme weather (such as 1995's Twister, which has a decidedly mixed reputation in storm-chasing circles), you'll definitely want to give this book a read. But its appeal is not limited to those with a hankering for climatological disaster: the author's approach, his way of digging under the surface to explore the dreams and motivations of these unusual men and women, takes the book out of its niche and puts it right up there beside such best-selling narrative nonfiction as Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm (1997), a book to which Svenvold devotes two pages of admiring praise, and Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (1997). David Pitt
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