May 22, 2016

The Hurricane Lover - Joni Rodgers

December 10, 2013.

Three Stars

The Hurricane Lover is set in New Orleans during the summer of 2005 – it is hurricane season, and the novel is heavy with tension because we as readers know that Hurricane Katrina is on its way. The novel focuses on the experiences of two people, along with their families – as the storm builds, during its climax, and as they bear witness to the horrific aftermath.

Corbin is a Gulf Coast climatologist who begs the citizens of New Orleans to evacuate, but many refuse because of false alarms in the past, which resulted in expensive hotel stays and the looting of homes, with no real damage from the storm. Instead, those citizens who live on high ground throw “hurricane parties” to wait out the storm. Meanwhile, perky blonde weatherwoman Shay makes light of the situation on the news, reporting that she will “shelter in place.” Her flippant attitude about the impending hurricane upsets Corbin, who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend.

On the morning of the storm, Shay reconnects with Corbin because she has uncovered some startling information about his brother – she thinks he is involved with a shady website called “Hurricane Lovers” in which anonymous people make plans to hook up during major storm systems. It seems harmless, until some of the men don’t survive their meetings with one particular unknown woman. Of course, she is the one Corbin’s brother has plans to meet during Hurricane Katrina.

As Shay and Corbin set out to warn him, the hurricane hits full force and the two are trapped together in various extreme situations. They are struggling to survive, but emotions get in the way, and Shay takes off on her own. I felt that this was the strongest part of the novel, in which Shay uses a handheld camera to record the horrors of the storm. The city is truly post-apocalyptic at this point, and the scenes are shockingly graphic. Ten years later, it’s still hard to believe that these events really took place in the United States. Rodgers holds nothing back in her descriptions of the ruined city, and it was the first time that I felt I truly understood what people went through in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

One of my favourite things about the novel is that the story is interspersed with actual news reports, speeches by then-President George Bush, and emails to and from Michael Brown, head of FEMA. Some were so horrifically comical that it’s hard to believe they really happened – for instance, as displaced people are starving in the Superdome, Brown’s staff are sending him urgent emails to roll up his sleeves when on tv, in order to seem more involved in the recovery effort.

As I said, the parts of the novel set during and immediately after the storm were by far the most powerful, but the story carried on much longer than it should have. The settings and characters after the storm were unrealistic and contrived, especially Shay’s clichéd rich southern family. I wish it had wrapped up sooner, because the romance/family drama tropes were a disservice to the earlier, more powerful aspects of the novel.

Meanwhile, the thriller/murder plot dragged on to the end, although it was superfluous to the Hurricane Katrina story, and completely unnecessary. For most of the middle of the novel, I had actually forgotten there was a killer on the loose. It felt like two different novels were being forced into one, and it didn’t help either one to develop. The Hurricane Lover is certainly worth the read, but you can safely stop reading once Shay and Corbin escape New Orleans, and get more out of the novel that way than if you finish it.

I received this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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