Eric Liddle's Reviews > A Winter Haunting

A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons
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Feb 18, 12

it was amazing
Read in February, 2012

Loved it. Was actually compelled to write my first review of a book ever when I closed it earlier today. Is it "Summer of Night"? Nope. I thoroughly enjoyed that book as well, but for different reasons. The prequel was nostalgic, adventurous, and scarier with a wide-eyed innocence. In this one, Simmons strips off any sentimentality (from this story or "Summer"). Duane, the narrator now actually "shakes his head" at the wistfulness of the first story--which is interesting given what we find out of "Summer of Night"'s creation in this story.

This story is bleak. If you're read "The Terror", you know how hopeless Simmons's pages can be. It's hard to watch Dale, once a carefree, light-hearted, and decent boy become a depressed, suicide-contemplating adulterer. It's brutal as well. We get to see C.J. Congden all grown up--having devolved into more of a bully--and Michelle Staffney, the sixth grade sex grenade who's worse for the wear as well.

But the story also speaks to a friendship that spans, in many ways, the chasm of death. It certainly has it's creepy moments, but I didn't find it incredibly scary. I would say more interesting. I found it entertaining, but I suppose I was more impressed with the writing, the development of the story--specifically how things were wrapped up--more than anything. All in all a fantastic read.

SPOILERS

Just some things I appreciated about the book:

I liked the theme of birth/death throughout the book. Dale's marriage was dying, then he found "life", in an affair. But that brought death and even fascinations on Dale's part of making that a physical reality for his ex-lover. Then there are the sheets Dale cut and squeezed through upstairs (birth), ironically, to go kill himself. When that didn't work, he emerged from the underground bootleggers' tunnel, squeezing himself through again, only to find C.J. Congden waiting to kill him.

Also, the "melding" of C.J. Congden and the skinhead leader (evil) was juxtaposed with the melding of Dale and Duane (good).

The irony of the black dogs "surrounding" Dale throughout the book. How they started out as little, insignificant, but actually grew in proportion to Dale's own depression and thoughts of suicide. What he was terrified of was actually sent there to guard him from going over that great divide. Also, the fact that Duane's old notes served as the "spell" Dale shouted, at which point the dogs attacked the skin heads.

I appreciated how Duane came through in the end, relentlessly steering Dale toward hope, restoration with his family, etc. After 40 years he was still loyal to Dale.

How Dale wasn't quite as loony as we were lead to believe. Many of the things he saw were probably, in some sense, real. The ghosts of Michelle Staffney and C.J. Congden? C.J. had raped her in the house he was staying in, so they left a world of bad mojo in that place. And also, in some sense, they both still wanted something in the real world. The dogs? Already mentioned those. The random typing? Duane obviously. So, thing were not all lost on Dale and in many ways he got caught up in a whirlwind spiritual activity from the past.

I found the last chapter (after all the previous bleakness and every indication that Dale would die) to be incredibly redemptive. Top notch novel.
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