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The Center of Winter: A Novel

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  1,158 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
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 you
ebook, 352 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published February 1st 2005)
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Aug 22, 2009 Annie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Center of Winter is the story of a father's suicide and the way it reverberates through his family for the next year. Told from the perspective of all the ones left behind (his wife, son, and young daughter), the novel is by turns excruciatingly sad, dull, painful, and joyful. It's the story of a family coming back to life after the unthinkable has happened, and not just surviving but eventually thriving.

I found myself falling in love with every character in the book, even the man who did th
Leah Meyer
Aug 13, 2007 Leah Meyer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has been near and dear to my heart. I am unhappy to have finished it. It both warms you and breaks your heart. Davey and Kate are six yrs old and the best of friends. Esau is Kate's twelve yr old brother who seems to have Bipolar Disorder. He has his "darks" and is hospitalized, institutionalized and eventually brought home and stabilizes. His mother says he has the "sick-sads" that he quite possibly inherited from his father who eventually kills himself. Kate and Davey are inseparable ...more
May 06, 2008 Joanie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure how much I really liked this book. I couldn't put it down, but I ended it feeling ambivalent. I think my expectations may have been unrealistically high since I liked Hornbacher's memoir so much. This book was interesting, and sometimes it was incredible, but it was also uncomfortably bleak at some points, and the writing was sometimes awkward and thick (there's no need for someone to shriek on every page) and a few of the characters got on my nerves. Despite those complaints, still ...more
Jan 02, 2015 Nicole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
SO well written. loved this novel from start to finish, couldn't put it down.
"All the seasons here in the north move toward their own end, except winter, which moves towards its centre and sits there to see how long you can take it. Spring twitches impatiently in its seat like a child wanting to go outside, straining toward summer,and summer, all lush and showy, tumbles headlong toward the decay of fall. Fall comes and goes so fast it takes the breath away, arriving in brocades of red and gold a
Chelsey Clammer
Jan 20, 2011 Chelsey Clammer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Damn. This is such a well written novel and engaging story. It centers around a father's suicide-but thorugh her writing talent, Hornbacher makes the novel incredibly wonderful and not at all depressing. The story is told from 3 different viewpoints--the spunky 6-year-old daughter's, the mentally ill 12-year-old son's, and the widow's. The construction of the narratives moves the story along and makes you feel like you are a part of their family. It's the best novel I've read in a REALLY long ti ...more
Liz Filippone
Nov 05, 2007 Liz Filippone rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
This was truely a beautiful story. There are sad times with this family, but brighter times as well. The author's description and comparison of winter and life is so on! Since it takes place in northern minnesota, you really feel the cold in the winter and heat in the summer. I loved how the mom, son and daughter narrated the story in different sections. It really told you from their point of view what was going on. I felt each section was in good length and I'm sure it was a hard thing to do fo ...more
Having read Hornbacher's intimate memoir about her battle with Bulimia and mental illness, Wasted, some years ago, I've been meaning to pick up some of her fiction ever since. Her debut novel, Centre Of Winter, came highly recommended to me by a friend and it didn't disappoint.

Narrated by three members of the same family, it takes in their different perspectives of coming to terms with the suicide of their patriarch, Arnold, and how his death has affected them individually and as a whole. The y
Kate Pittman
Jan 04, 2013 Kate Pittman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you read Marya Horbacher, don't expect it to be all sunshine and roses. I adore her writing. She's a person who has experienced a lot of pain in her life through her battles with eating disorders, addiction, and mental illness. When she writes about these subjects, it comes from a place of true personal understanding and that brings so much more reality to her words.
The other two books of hers I have read are Wasted and Madness. Both are excellent memoirs. This is her first venture into ficti
Aug 14, 2010 Rhonda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
This is a story about how one family copes with death and grief within the family. Told from the mother, the daughter, and the sons' point of view.

I thought it was a little boring at times...


"When you're six, you don't know about what happens at the end. Because the world revolves around you when you're six, you assume the end must be catastrophic, because it would be catastrophic to you. The end would be dramatic and loud.
But what really happens at the end is that you sit down and have
Jan 19, 2010 Elizabeth rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read a little over 30 pages of this book and could not continue despite my best efforts. The protagonist was a child and the author was unable to write in the authentic voice of a child. I found the dialogue between the six year-old protagonist and her twelve-year old brother completely phony. There was not enough other depth to the narrative to sustain my interest and I realized my mind had wandered too many times.
Lisa Heath
Jul 08, 2008 Lisa Heath rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who needs a little cry.
Recommended to Lisa by: I saw somewhere that my friend Valerie was reading it.
I haven't read "Wasted." I am glad. This was my first MH book.

I was ill-prepared for what the book centers around [death.] But once I started reading .... I put the other books I was reading away and focused on "The Center of Winter."

I cried. And cried. Cried.

Loved it. Was mad that I finished it so quickly. Because it was good. But I wasn't ready for it to endddd.

Thank god the ending didn't make me cry more. Couldn't have dealt with it.

May 23, 2016 Ashleigh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. What this author did was take grief, PTSD, mental illness, love, children, alcholism, endings and beginnings, family and friendship and put everything together in a poignant and humorous novel that I absolutely did not want to put down. There were times while reading this book that I wanted to cry, and then laugh, and then laugh some more, amidst the family chaos, grief and what it is really like inside the mind of a child.
Aug 07, 2014 Jenny rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
It's not that the author is a bad writer - it's more like she has never interacted with actual human beings. Not one conversation in this book felt authentic. I've never met six year olds who talk or behave like Kate and Davey. But it was a problem with every character in the book. It got so annoying and unsettling that I finally had to give up.
Sep 26, 2016 Tina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rarely do I give a book 5 stars but Marya Hornbacher deserves it for all that she put into this story of mental illness, pain, love, and hope. This is a beautifully written book that hooks you from the start and takes you on a emotion filled journey with each character. It is heartfelt and real in the midst of a fictional world. I can only hope that Ms. Hornbacher will write more fiction.
Jan 21, 2009 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was most impressed by the author's ability to make me really know these characters on a very in depth level. Wonderful character development, moved me to tears on a few occasions, and explored mental illness in a very honest manner. I really enjoyed reading this!
Ally Stefanides
Mar 22, 2011 Ally Stefanides rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful story of fiction from a woman who has already given so much of her story.
Aug 31, 2015 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a sad book! I still liked it though.
Britt Burgeson
Mar 24, 2017 Britt Burgeson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
I'm surprised that this book received mixed reviews. Granted, it doesn't compare to Hornbacher's stellar, wor(l)d-shattering memoirs, but it is a strong text in its own right. The shifts in perspective helped propel the story - adjusting the lens of focus and preoccupation to subtly call attention to narrative limits. The language was varied, reflective of the respective characters: innocent, playful 6-year old Kate, brilliant yet manic 12-year old Esau (his first chapter took place in a State h ...more
Andrea Arbit
This book was hard to read because it captured grief so completely. Consequently, it took me more time to get through than a typical book, and it's taken me longer to getting around to this review. It's a heavy book. It's really, really good, but it's heavy.

When the patriarch of a family commits suicide in his small, cold, Minnesota town, it naturally effects the lives of his wife, 12-year-old son, and 6-year-old daughter. We get to read each of their perspectives.

Claire, the widow, feels respo
This book had a lot potential to be great for me. Topics that I want to read about and an author whose work I liked in the past. However, the fact that it almost took me 4 months to finish it tells another story.

'The Center of Winter' is a story about mental illness and loss and how a family copes with them. The story is told from three different POVs. Kate, the six-years-old daughter, her bother Esau (12 years old) and their mother. Between the tragedy that hits the family kind and Esau's stay
Dec 30, 2016 Allie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-books
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This is the space in which The Center of Winter takes place. Such a small geographic area, such large stories to be told.

I honestly cannot write a review that does this book justice. It is beautifully written, profoundly sweet, and achingly dark. It felt a little slow to start, but once the flame caught it spread like wildfire until the very last word.

Motley, Minnesota, has a population of just over 500, it is 1969 and all the men spend their days in the only bar in town or their own basement
Mar 31, 2008 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh, this is hard. First of all, I went into this book biased by Wasted. When someone's autobiography is that uncomfortable, and I come out the end kind of not liking her a whole lot, but just maybe, still a bit fascinated, that's a tough place to be in when reading a debut novel. I'm deeply ambivalent about Marya Hornbacher, and I'm equally deeply ambivalent about The Center of Winter.

I'm a total sucker for precocious kids in tough situations. And I did love the children, the ultra-precocious si
Jennie Diplock-Storer
Oh wow! Such a great read!!

Excellent characters telling their own stories; gifted writing & a gripping plot line had me riveted to this book. Light & dark shades, beautiful friendships.

I highly recommend this book!
Feb 27, 2014 Debra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not quite a 4 but definitely better than a 3. I liked the book but found it to be a bit too dark for my taste. For the most part, I liked the way it was written. There was a richness to way she describes mood with silence having a shape and absence filling a space. She forces you to feel the effect environment has on memories and behavior. Her descriptions of weather were also very good. You felt the warmth of a house when you walked in or the uncomfortable heat of the summer. However, I had som ...more
Jan 11, 2009 Jaemi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-fiction
This is not the book to read if you’re looking for a happy story. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t end well, but it’s not going to leave you feeling uplifted and light.

Set in small town Minnesota, this is the story of a family. A mother who never quite wanted to be, a father who can’t quite get it right, and isn’t happy enough with what he has, a son who gets lost inside himself, and a daughter just trying to keep up. The story is told from ever side, each looking a little different.

Claire spe
Jan 12, 2011 Nicola rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
As a Hornbacher fan, I read The 'Centre of Winter' because I loved Hornbacher's memoirs 'Wasted' and 'Madness'. The novel shows Hornbacher's continued brilliance in describing events and characters so you feel as though you are there. The pace of the novel is much slower than that of the memoirs and includes a lot of dialogue. Characters in her own life seem to emerge as fictional characters in the novel. I wonder whether the two children Kate and Esau represent the two sides of Hornbacher as a ...more
Nancy Vala
Jan 12, 2016 Nancy Vala rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The thousands of lakes sprawling and sparkling a brilliant blue, the dense foliage and subtropical wet heat of summer, the wildflowers of the prairie, the long wide ribbons of road that amble through fields of corn — and the winters, the thick sheaves of snow that slip from the roofs of farmhouses and city homes, sifting to the ground, where they slide into the slopes of snow that lean against the house, the bitter hard cold that presses against your chest and takes your breath, and the red bri ...more
Aug 16, 2015 Abc rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
La malattia della tristezza è parecchio contagiosa e investe completamente questo nucleo familiare, non solo il padre. La situazione appare complessa fin dall'inizio: la zia suicida, il figlio con problemi psichici e il padre alcolista. Viene da pensare a come effettivamente nella vita i problemi tendano a sommarsi fra loro e ad assumere dimensioni spropositate.
Il romanzo descrive una famiglia in gravi difficoltà e lo fa utilizzando i diversi punti di vista dei suoi componenti, in modo da dare u
Oct 24, 2015 Eileen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such an emotional book. The author has bipolar disorder and I read her book about that. I thought this was similar: a recounting of how she and her family manages to live with the disorder. Instead, this is a work of fiction, set in her home state of Minnesota. It follows two families and the emotional highs and lows of their lives and how they deal with them, from a son with a mental illness who spends time in a state institution, to a husband who came back from the war very much unlike the man ...more
May 02, 2007 Ashley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before I read this book, I saw a review stating that this book was a huge disappointment when compared to Hornbacher's first book, Wasted. The reviewer went so far as to say that she couldn't even get through this book. So based on that, my expectations weren't too high. And maybe because of that, I enjoyed this book and thought it was a quick read. But I do have to warn anyone reading this book that it's pretty heavy at times - it's about how the remaining members of a family deal with the fath ...more
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Marya Hornbacher published her first book, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.), in 1998, when she was twenty-three. What started as a crazy idea suggested by a writer friend became the classic book that has been published in fourteen languages, is taught in universities and writing programs all over the world, and has, according to the thousands of letters Mar ...more
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“We were at another funeral party. I wasn’t sure who had died this time, but it was a suicide, and upsetting because it was completely out of season. No on killed themselves in summertime. It was rude.” 11 likes
“I missed him so much that it felt like a physical pain in the area below my ribs. I opened my mouth to accommodate it. I put my hand to it. A hollow, aching, piercing place.” 3 likes
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