Books: ‘Stormchasers,’ a twist of psychology |

Books: ‘Stormchasers,’ a twist of psychology

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Jenna Blum’s debut novel, “Those Who Save Us,” charted the New York Times bestseller list for nearly two years. Now, the author has moved from themes of guilt over one’s German heritage to guilt over the kind of familial bonds that tie people to secrecy and shame.

“The Stormchasers” begins with Karena turning 38 and missing her twin, Charles, whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years. Almost immediately, the story gathers force, when a psychiatric ward liaison calls Karena to inform her that Charles is hospitalized. But by the time Karena flies to Witchita, Kansas, to see him the next morning, he’s gone – the doctor, not knowing Charles has a bipolar disorder, released him, thinking he simply had a panic attack.

Coming so close to finding her brother after two decades of searching for him, Karena vows to go to any lengths to reunite with her twin. Her commitment brings her into the world of storm chasers – a type of maniac lifestyle in and of itself, characterized by surges of adrenaline – because her brother began pursuing dangerous weather conditions as a teenager.

Karena comes up with a convenient excuse to hang out with storm chasers -she’s a reporter who’s decided to write a feature on the bizarre quests. But as it turns out, Charles disappeared from the group scene years prior, after one of the members “turned” on him by hospitalizing him for dangerous instability.

As the story evolves, readers learn about the source of Karena’s overbearing guilt, and sense of responsibility, for her twin. When Karena ultimately encounters Charles, she faces a devastating surprise.

Blum’s fascination with storms, as well as her close relationships to people with bipolar disorder, led her to pair the two subjects, which have more in common with each other than meets the eye. In fact, many have likened mania to an electrical storm in the brain.

Blum masterfully delves into the psychology of a person who loves someone with a bipolar condition through her depiction of Karena’s conflicted thoughts, actions and feelings. However, the depth of suffering doesn’t go as deep with Charles’ portrayal. Yes, it compassionately shows his refusal to take medication, due to side effects, including not feeling like a genuine human being, and that’s more than many authors can pull off. But it still reduces him to someone who “is bipolar,” rather than a person who suffers from the disorder. There’s a difference, and fully understanding the distinction between the two allows a writer to reveal dimensions of her character that “The Stormchasers” didn’t completely capture.

The other, very minor, falter in the book involves romantic situations. Blum brilliantly unfolds scenes of flirtatious, budding attraction. But when it comes to sexuality, which is always difficult to write in a way that doesn’t seem contrived, her dialogue falls limp.

That said, “The Stormchasers” takes a fascinating look into psychology, intimate relationships and overtly risky behavior through a compelling story line.

– Kimberly Nicoletti

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