When his parents split up, and his dad leaves home, a ten year old boy begs the sky to help him. The next day an ice storm covers his city. Then the power goes out, the temperature drops and people must turn to each other to survive.
Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather is a novel by Pierre Szalowski, translated into English by Alison Anderson. It is set in the infamous Montreal ice storm in 1998, and centres around several people in one small area. The format is quite Love Actually esque; the characters’ stories slowly and improbably intertwine as the narrative unfolds.
This isn’t exactly a revolutionary book. It’s been done and it’ll be done again. The ending was quite predictable, and not just because we know the facts about the ice storm. Despite this, however, it was a very enjoyable book. The story played out well and although the characters weren’t massively developed, this almost added to the feel within the book that this fleeting event not only has the characters thrust into each others’ private lives, but it has thrown the reader in there too. We know bits about the characters’ back stories, but for the most part we are only shown what happens during the ice storm; this often leads to a sort of awkward intimacy that is reflected in the characters’ interactions with each other. We don’t know them, they don’t know each other, and yet we’re all forced into each others’ lives for a short period.
There are 9 main characters in the book (and 4 fish). This seems like a lot, but like most narratives of this nature they can be split into groups;
The Narrator and his parents – The narrator is a 10 year old boy, coming to terms with (or rather, denying entirely) his parents splitting up. He asks the sky for help the day before the ice storm hits, and spends much of the novel believing that he is controlling the storm.
Alex and Alexis – Alex is the narrator’s best friend and kind of a jerk. He pushes the narrator around and misbehaves at school, however we are encouraged to sympathise with him due to his living conditions; his father is an alcoholic and sleeps much of the day away, while his mother is nowhere to be seen.
Simon and Michel – An older gay couple, Simon and Michel were both previously married to women before finding each other. They are often mistaken for brothers in the street and are scared to ‘out’ themselves; they tend not to leave the house together if they can help it, much less show affection in public.
Julie – A stripper with 3 cats, Julie leads a relatively unknown life before the storm. We see very little of her and unfortunately I wasn’t satisfied with her character; it felt as though she was left behind because ‘stripper’ was enough explanation for her.
Boris – the character behind the title of the book, Boris is a Russian mathematician. He has been working on a dissertation for years about the affects of temperature on the trajectory of his four fish’s paths.
I don’t want to say much more about the characters for fear of spoiling the whole book, but they are all generally easy to read and even the less savoury do have likeability. Overall, I enjoyed this book and although it might not be the most original or surprising, it’s a heart-warming and lovely little read. The message of the book is basically that everything falls to shit sometimes, but there’s always hope and good – I personally think that it never hurts to be reminded of that.
See you soon,
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