Center of Winter

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Overview

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...

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2005 Hardcover First Edition; First Printing New in New dust jacket 0060192267. Book and DJ are New, first edition, first printing, remainder mark on bottom, S-102, ; 1.18 x ... 9.06 x 6.54 Inches; 336 pages. Read more Show Less

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Overview

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

  • ISBN-13: 9780060192266
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/2005
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Marya Hornbacher is a journalist as well as a writer of fiction and memoir. Her first book, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, has become a classic. The Center of Winter is her first novel. She lives in Minneapolis.

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First Chapter

The Center of Winter
A Novel

Kate

It begins with a small town, far north.

Motley, Minnesota, Pop. 442. Near the headwaters of the muddy Mississippi, past the blue glass of the cities and the stained red brick of the warehouse districts, past the long-abandoned train stations and the Grain Belt sign and the Pillsbury Flour building on the riverbanks, past the smokestacks and hulking wrecks of the industrial section, the town lies past all this, in the center of the prairie that creeps north and west of the river, into the Dakotas.

Seen from above, this prairie, its yellow grasses, is dotted sparsely with towns too small for mapmakers' concern.

Just south of Staples, on the county road that runs through the center of town, passing the school at the south edge, Norby's Department Store, Morey's Fish Co., the market with the scarred front porch, the old brick storefronts with small wooden signs on hinges, the painted names of businesses faded and flaked. Morrison's Meats, the Cardinal Cafe. By the time you've noticed that you're passing through, County Road 10 swerves sharply to the left, past Y-Knot Liquors, and all semblance of town disappears, leaving you to wonder if there was a town after all. All you see are acres and acres of field.

On the corner of Madison Street is a pale eggshell-blue house with three steps leading up from the walk and a postage stamp of yard in the back where my mother, when the spirit moved her, gardened feverishly and then let the garden go sprawling untended in the tropical wet of July.

My father would sit on the back porch watching her, sitting the way men here sit: leaned back, feet planted far apart, arms on the arms of the chair, a beer in his right hand. The beer would be sweating.

They met in New York, at a club. They met and got married at city hall, and when I had my mother alone, I demanded she tell me again about the dress she made from curtains, and the red shoes, and the garnet necklace she got for a song. They had a party with cheap wine back at the apartment. I picture it all in rich colors. I remember the club for them, with red walls and small, spattered candles on the tables. Whether it had these things or not is of no concern to me, because it's my story, not theirs.

The garnet necklace is mine now. I keep thinking I ought to get the clasp repaired.


"What were you wearing?"

My mother was soaping my head.

"Sweetheart, I don't remember. Dunk," she said. I dunked and spluttered.

"You have to remember," I insisted. She laughed. "All right," she said, and I could tell she was going to make it up, and I didn't care. "Black. A black coat. And a hat."

"What kind of hat?"

"Katie, for heaven's -- hold still -- what? A hat with a feather." She scrubbed my ears. In the hall my father was yelling for her, and the door opened. She turned to look at him.

"There you are!" he said. "When's dinner?"

"I'm bathing Katie."

"I can see that."

"When I'm done."

He stood there. "Esau's sulking," he said.

My mother turned back to me and started scrubbing my neck ferociously. "What am I supposed to do about it?"

"Hi, Daddy," I said.

"Hiya, kiddo," he said. "I see your mother's in one of her moods again."

I nodded. My mother rolled her eyes.

"Well, all I can say," my father said, and then paused as if thinking.

"Yep," he noted with finality, and closed the door.

In the summer I wore a white nightgown and the sun didn't quite set, the sky turning a faint purple that lingered late. We ate dinner out on the back porch. My father was watching the sky.

"We ought to go down to the city," he said.

My mother snorted.

"What, we shouldn't go down to the city?" my father asked. "You don't want to go down to the city? There was something wrong with the suggestion?"

I sucked on my tomato wedge. My mother said nothing.

"Claire?" my father said. "Answer me. Do you or do you not want to go down to the city?"

"Mom, just answer him," Esau muttered.

We waited.

"Yes," my mother said carefully, "I would love to go down to the city."

My father grinned. "Good!" he said. "We'll have dinner. See a show." He looked around the garden, pleased, and took a swallow of his drink. He leaned over and kissed my mother on the cheek. "Good," he said again.

My mother smiled faintly at her plate.

We would never go down to the city.

The light was fading, the way light fades in a memory, objects losing their definition, faces falling into shadow. My mother was clearing the table and telling me to get ready for bed.

And the house settled into obscurity for the night. My father watched night fall over his small square of the world while his wife did the dishes and his children did whatever it is that children do before bed.

What was he thinking about?

Perhaps my mother startled slightly when he came up behind her at the sink and placed his hand on her arm.

Perhaps she relaxed, and turned her face a little toward him.

Perhaps they danced then in the living room, to old records, while I stood in my white nightgown and watched through my crackedopen door.

I went to bed to the muffled sound of Count Basie, and the hot night, and imagined my brother on the other side of the bedroom wall.

It was 1969. America had gone all to hell, but that was far away.

Nothing could happen to us because it was June and my brother was sleeping and my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. Soon my father would dip her, kiss her, go to the bar for another drink.

The Center of Winter
A Novel
. Copyright © by Marya Hornbacher. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 13 of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2013

    Amazingly real and humorous

    Hornbacher writes with an ease that sucks the reader in. This story is both heart-wrenching and hilarious as you walk through the aftermath of a father's suicide through the shoes of his wife, daughter, and son. This book is a definite must read and easily one of my favorites.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2008

    Heartbreaking! Great Book!

    None of us know what it is like to walk in someone else's shoes but we are so good at judging others. Claire has alot on her plate and the guilt of her husband's suicide makes her life most difficult. She tries to regain a life and not lose her children in the process. Great book. Heartbreaking at times. Hard to put down.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2008

    Simply Poetry

    If Marya's Wasted was heavy metal, than this is a passionate love song. It is beautiful and something I never thought I would read I never would have expected to love this book asmuch as I do.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2007

    The Best Kind of Book

    Marya Hornbacher has written one the best kinds of books because story stays with you. The characters are drawn so beautifully you'll feel you've known them all your life. I laughed, cried, hoped and journeyed with these richly created, animated characters. Hornbacher has an amazing gift, she is able to convincingly and lovingly tell her story through alternating viewpoints of Kate, a 6 year old girl struggling to make sense of her father's death, Esau, a 12 year old genius suffering from mental illness, and Claire, a 38 year old woman coping with the loss of her husband and struggling to raise her children alone. Illustrating the 'Dark' and 'to Away' as only someone who has been there can, Hornbacher weaves her story through tragedy, hope, and triumph.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2006

    absolutely wonderful!

    anyone who's read and remotely enjoyed Ellen Foster (written by Kaye Gibbons) will undoubtedly fall madly in love with his novel i know i did. The plot is fantastic with many small plot twists so interesting that I found myself skipping lines in anticipation of what was next. The characters are easy to relate to, and the attention to specific details allows the reader to feel as though they are a part of the story.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    Marya Hornbacher is an exceptional author. I read her memoirs and I liked them so much, that I thought I would read The Center Of Winter. Im so glad I did. It is one of the best books Ive ever read. You feel so close to each character..feeling their pain. The end was the best part. It couldnt have been any other way.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I loved this book, and you will too!

    Marya Hornbacher's first book, Wasted, is beautiful, haunting, and highly interesting. It was a memoir, however, and this book was a fictional novel. It did not disappoint. It is the sad tale of Claire and her two children, Kate and Esau, after her husband, Arnold, kills himself. Dealing with subject matter that could easily become preachy, the author does a marvelous job of moving the story along quickly by telling it from all three point of views. Although the end seems to leave the reader with a lack of closure that feels like a bit of jolt, it was a very fitting end to the tone of the book. As one the characters says, "What's next? More life. Always more life."

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2005

    Wonderful

    My sister read 'Wasted' and really related to it, so when this came out I thought I would give it a go. What a fabulous surprise, Maya is a wonderful story teller! I thought these people had this wonderfully sad inner struggle, but all the tools within themselves to make it right. It's woven so beautifully and ends just how I imagined it. She told a very real story with Characters that you actually cared about. Really Amazing and I hope she hurries out with her next one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2005

    recommended

    I just loved this book from beginning to end and the characters are perfect for this disfunctional and emotional family.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted April 10, 2011

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    Posted January 28, 2010

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    Posted July 20, 2011

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