Center of Winter

Center of Winter

4.5 12
by Marya Hornbacher

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At the center of winter, in Motley, Minnesota, Arnold Schiller gives in to the oppressive season that reigns outside and also to his own inner demons — he commits suicide, leaving a devastated family in his wake.

Claire Schiller, wife and mother, takes shelter from the emotional storm with her husband's parents but must ultimately emerge from her grief and

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At the center of winter, in Motley, Minnesota, Arnold Schiller gives in to the oppressive season that reigns outside and also to his own inner demons — he commits suicide, leaving a devastated family in his wake.

Claire Schiller, wife and mother, takes shelter from the emotional storm with her husband's parents but must ultimately emerge from her grief and help her two young children to recover. Esau, her oldest, is haunted by the same darkness that plagued his father. At twelve years old, he has already been in and out of state psychiatric hospitals, and now, with the help of his mother and sister, he must overcome the forces that drive him deep into himself. But as the youngest, perhaps it is Katie who carries the heaviest burden. A precocious six-year-old who desperately wants to help her mother hold the family together, she will have to come to terms with the memory of her father, who was at once loving and cruel.

Narrated alternately by Claire, Katie, and Esau, this powerful and passionate novel explores the ways in which both children and adults experience tragic events, discover solace and hope in one another, and survive. The Center of Winter finds humor in unlikely places and evokes the north — its people and landscape — with warmth, sensitivity, and insight. The story of three people who, against all odds, find their way out of the center of winter, Marya Hornbacher's debut novel will leave you breathless, tearful, and ultimately inspired.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"When someone killed himself, it was a waste. No one ever said so, but we knew. My father will kill himself. It will be a waste," says Kate Schiller, recalling her gloomy early years from the vantage point of adulthood. In this moving, occasionally maudlin, debut novel by the author of the memoir Wasted, the Schiller family of smalltown Motley, Minn., is plagued by death: the suicide of six-year-old Kate's Aunt Rose, who hangs herself from the chandelier, is town gossip, and Kate's father, Arnold, is heading toward a similar end. He's unemployed, a charming drunk, obsessed with the descent of Kate's older brother, 12-year-old Esau, into mental illness. When Esau must be taken away to the state hospital at Christmas, Arnold shoots himself in the head. Hornbacher's novel, narrated in the alternating voices of Kate, Esau and their mother, Claire, is the story of the family's response to Arnold's death: how sweet, tormented Esau copes with the news; whether stubborn Kate could have said something to stop her father; how Claire deals with the guilt of having wanted to leave her husband. Hornbacher is a gifted writer, skilled at capturing the intense sensations of childhood and possessed of a particular talent for dialogue, but the indiscriminate ratcheting up of emotion and large doses of wise-child winsomeness give the novel a precious edge. Agent, Sydelle Kramer at the Frances Goldin Literary Agency. 8-city author tour. (Feb. 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The Schillers seem like such a nice family-there's precocious six-year-old Kate, 12-year-old Esau, and parents Claire and Arnold. They live in Motley, MN (pop. 442), where Claire, a transplant from down South, is treated with some reserve but given the benefit of the doubt. It is 1969, and for Kate and her best buddy, Davey, the world is a continually amazing place. But life is not all that it seems. Arnold spends most of his days with a drink in hand; he's worried because Esau hears voices and suffers long bouts of sadness as well as vivid dreams. Eventually, Esau must be placed in an institution, and after a particularly traumatic visit, Arnold takes his own life-leaving the devastated Claire to explain his death to their children. Luckily, she has a good support system, from Davey's mom to Arnold's parents, whose daughter Rose also killed herself. Despite the gloomy themes, Hornbacher's debut novel is one of triumph and survival. The narrative unfolds through the interweaving voices of Kate, Claire, and Esau, with each character exquisitely drawn. The author of the acclaimed memoir Wasted has created a gripping tale of a family that copes despite the odds. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/04.]-Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A poignant but soft-centered debut novel about family loss and survival. In rural Minnesota, Kate (6) and Esau (12) grow up aware of mental illness in their family. Their aunt committed suicide, her history pointing forward to the story's twin axes. Their father, Arnold, has forsaken work for a life of drinking, and Esau is having "episodes" that deepen to delusional behavior, leading to his incarceration in State, the local mental hospital. Under this pressure, his parents' originally satisfactory but now strained marriage cracks. At Christmas, after an unhappy visit to Esau, Arnold shoots himself. His widow, Claire, takes Kate and spends a while with her surprisingly supportive in-laws. She isn't ready to tell Esau of his father's death, or to enter the room where it happened. But as spring arrives, Esau is strong enough to come home and be told the truth. The narration is shared among Kate, Claire, and Esau, and we learn of the boy's unusually tolerable time at State: colorful but endearing inmates, kindly staff. At home again, he struggles to be well, aided by preternaturally helpful Kate. Together, the two support Claire, who is relying on drink and her friendship with Donna-the mother of Kate's best friend-to get through. Claire and Donna discuss weak husbands and failing marriages, subjects Donna understands, being married to Dale, an unhappy Korean War vet who has also taken to drink. One exception to this run of weak, dissolute males is Frank, the local bar-owner, who possesses both a library and a button collection. He and Claire begin to date, causing some anxiety among the children. Donna is also seeing another man, creating greater anxiety in Dale. On the night Claireconsummates her relationship with Frank, Dale commits suicide too. But Kate's epilogue reveals a happier future for her family. Memoirist Hornbacher (Wasted, 1988) dilutes the impact of her sensitively told story through overdoses of cuteness and foreboding. Author tour. Agent: Sydelle Kramer/Frances Goldin Literary Agency

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.09(d)

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