The luminous first novel by Marya Hornbacher, the acclaimed author of Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, is a moving and passionate story of a death from despair and a stricken family's passage through grief toward the hope, solace, and understanding that waits for them somewhere beyond the center of winter.
About the Author
Marya Hornbacher is an award-winning journalist and bestselling writer. Her books include the memoirs Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, which has been published in twelve languages, and the New York Times bestseller Madness: A Bipolar Life; the recovery books Sane: Mental Illness, Addiction, and the Twelve Steps, and Waiting: A Nonbeliever's Higher Power; and the novel The Center of Winter. She teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Northwestern University and lives in Chicago.
Read an Excerpt
The Center of Winter
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.
"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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
I absolutely loved this book and its child's view of adult problems.
I don't know how to change the cover picture to the white one with the window (the edition I have), but this one is quite pretty so I'll keep it. Is it bad that I want to buy another edition of the book just for the pretty cover?
I just loved this book from beginning to end and the characters are perfect for this disfunctional and emotional family.