The Storm is a lovely and forgiving little tale about a group of eccentric misfits brought together—literally and figuratively—by a storm on a tiny resort island off the Florida coast. It is clearly inspired by Shakespeare’s last play, and greatest of his late romances, The Tempest. As such, it provides the Bard-loving reader with one of the best literary adaptations of a Shakespeare play since Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres.
In Shakespeare’s play, the island in question is ruled by an exiled Duke and magician named Prospero, castaway with his daughter, Miranda, after being overthrown by a plot involving his wicked brother. Until Prospero’s and Miranda’s arrival, the island’s sole inhabitants had been the monster Caliban (read: “Cannibal”), the son of an old witch named Sycorax, and a fairy named Ariel, whom Sycorax had imprisoned in a tree. Using his magic, Prospero frees Ariel, takes over the island, and eventually creates another storm, or “tempest”, in order to regain his Dukedom, enable a providential marriage for his daughter, and work a reconciliation with his estranged brother.
In Buechner’s tale, it is the witchy old Miss Sickert (Sycorax) who literally owns the island, while Kenzie (Buechner’s Prospero) is a tenant. Kenzie is a broken-down writer on his third rich wife. Well-meaning but ineffectual, he had been exposed some years before as a child-abuser by his own brother after getting a 17-yr-old homeless girl—a client in a NYC shelter where Kenzie was volunteering—pregnant. As a protagonist in a quietly Christian novel, Kenzie may be difficult to sell as a sympathetic character, but Buechner, though an ordained minister, never confuses narrative with preaching. It is one of this novel’s several accomplishments that Buechner manages to make Kenzie a likeable if very flawed human being rather than a poster boy for a political (or religious) diatribe. In the process, Bruechner also manages to show how God’s mercy and providence can produce miracles among the most difficult people, and from the most unlikely events.
And may I add that you don’t need to know anything about Shakespeare to enjoy it?