Leon Stone, Cary Fagan’s leading man in Sleeping Weather, is a Toronto character who’s spent some time in Kingston penetentiary and who urgently wants an explanation for his childhood. Fagan gives him lots of emotional snarls to untangle: a daughter he’d clearly die for, a forgiving marriage (which he feels undeserving of), a business that eerily mimics his father’s, and a new neighbour named Vasily who reminds Leon (reluctantly) of himself. As Leon moves through his daily joys and trials, the contrast between his adult satisfaction in marriage and his devastation as a son grows starker.
Fagan’s expressive details create a strong sense of people and place. The reader really feels familiar with his Toronto. And from his base of accurate and compressed language, Fagan can risk making simple parallels between Leon’s troubles and those of other characters. In fact, he makes many, many parallels, which form a net of plot around Leon, his family, and his past. For instance, when Leon grudgingly befriends Vasily (the neo-father figure), his wife suddenly befriends a difficult patient who reminds her of her mother. Leon’s father bet on horses; Leon carves wild-eyed rocking horses. Leon’s workshop is in his basement; Vasily drinks himself to death in his basement next door. Fagan weaves Leon’s troubles into each scene, spreading the idea of neglect, conflict, and struggle for resolution over the narrative like a heavy mist.
In spite of this, Sleeping Weather is an uneven book. Exciting events happen with too little build-up. Others occur with too much, and the intended jolt falls flat. Characters like Vasily come across as overly symbolic; he seems more of an idea at Fagan’s fingertips than a truly broken man. There also seems to be a punch line to the book as the reader waits to learn what drove Leon to jail, then caused his housebound condition in Toronto. When the reason is revealed, it doesn’t seem new, or particularly compelling. This is disappointing in a book set so pleasingly in historical and contemporary Toronto featuring characters who have such nifty biographies.