Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather is an odd book, quite a conundrum, in fact. From reading the blurb you could expect an emotional tale of a family disarray. You feel set up to read a book that swirls around the idea of a broken family with a young protagonist who inserts a glimmer of a miracle that questions our relationships. The novel, however, reads as a comedy drama that is more lighthearted than explorative when it comes to human emotion.
Our unnamed, ten year old central character pleads to the heavens for help after his parents split up and suddenly his town and the surrounding areas are exposed to freezing rain, all in the hope his parents get back together. The temperature has dropped, the roads are like sheet ice and the power is going out. The audience is slowly introduced to the supporting characters – Julie a stereotypical stripper who lives alone, Boris a Russian mathematician, Alex and his father Alexis both rather brutish and Michel and Simon a gay couple hiding from their neighbours.
The opening third of the novel sets the pace of everyone beginning to panic as the weather deteriorates. There’s plenty of anguish among the cast and each of them has a particular problem. For example, the title comes from Boris who is studying the movement of fish in a tank of water at a steady temperature. When the power goes, he must rely on the help of Julie to protect his fish and not lose his research. Suddenly the novel takes a very twee and saccharine flavour as the characters mingle.
It isn’t necessarily a bad thing that the book takes this turn, but it does become a little run of the mill and very cliché. Every outcome of each character is predictable as they start to help each other. It’s a heartwarming plot and reminiscent of the popular style of bad come good Hollywood comedies. It’s a pleasant read despite the eye rolling moments towards the end. It feels an offense to call Szalowskis basic, it does the job but won’t be praised for breaking boundaries. I enjoyed my time, but unless it is adapted into a movie (easy job, really) it isn’t a book I’ll remember.
Published by Canongate. This book was kindly sent from the publisher.