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Tornados and bomber strikes rival one another in the destruction they leave behind, except that bombers have a predefined target, and tornados follow an opportunistic path—one that even experts cannot predict. Len Joy deftly shows what happens when a tornado hits the town of Maple Springs, Missouri, on July 18, 2003.
A vicious whirlwind storm cuts a narrow path of destruction, sometimes turning one side of a street into rubble while leaving the other unscathed. Needless to say, the people of Maple Springs are changed forever in a matter of minutes.
The stage is set with considerable color and evocative language. Joy breathes life into his characters, of all walks of life: land developers, car dealers, teachers, police officers, military veterans, a couple of basket weavers, a tattoo artist, and even a former baseball legend turned jukebox restorer. The kind of people you find in small towns. They all know each other and often help each other. But they also hurt one another. They marry, they divorce, or maybe they don’t bother to divorce, and they gossip. Oh yes, they gossip. In Maple Springs, one can certainly see more than a little flavor of “Peyton Place.” That’s life in the ‘small town.’
Dancer Stonemason is trying to manage the jukebox restoration business started by his son Clayton, recently killed in a car accident. Having already lost his wife to cancer, Dancer now lives alone in Clayton’s house. His other son, Jim, owns the successful Stonemason Chevrolet dealership and doesn’t find much time to visit, but does find time enough to sell his brother’s house.
Dancer has to move out—jukeboxes and all, which he is trying to do with the help of a recent Iraq War veteran, Wayne Mesirow, who owns a truck big enough to carry the jukeboxes. No longer living with his wife Anita and their two children, Wayne hopes to join a touring rock group.
Meanwhile, Anita is dating land developer Ted Landis, who bought an 1880s riverboat that is now docked at Landis Landing on the Caledonia River. Having spent a fortune repairing The Spirit of St. Joseph, Landis is throwing a major party, with music by the Confederate Pirates, the group Wayne hopes to join. But as the townspeople head for the river, thunder and lightning erupt, the clouds take on an eerie yellow cast. The suspense begins to build.
Back in town, the Stonemasons are transforming the Chevy showroom into a ballroom for a reception. Daughter Kayla is marrying Barry on Monday. With the work almost done, Jim and Paula head home. Minutes later, the wind hits the glass door so hard that Barry can barely close it. He and Kayla head for the parts storeroom, but then hear a banging on the door. People are calling out for help. They return to let a teenage boy and girl in—then go out to help a man and three women reach the showroom.
Barry sees a “swirling white spiral…hovering over the mall like an alien spacecraft…” It “pinballs down Main Street…chewing up the Tastee-Freeze, leaving chunks of concrete, twisted rebar, pickup-stick configurations of aluminum siding…” The huge Stonemason sign is ripped down. Then a car skids into the drainage ditch. Barry and Kayla know they must help the father holding his young son and the mother with an infant in her arms clambering out of the car.
Dancer, at home, is surprised when he calls Russell for dinner, and the dog doesn’t come. He finds Russell perched on a log in the river, which is now a torrent of water. Dancer has to rescue Russell; he’s Clayton’s dog. Held by a rope tied to his belt loops, he slides into the river.
Soon the sun comes out, and the sky is blue once again. The tornado has left town. And this is just the beginning of the book. What happens to the town and its inhabitants make this a story you won’t quickly put down. Highly recommended.