I am going to write this review based purely on memory (I was eager to immediately lend the book to a friend) and with a bad cold, so hopefully I will do the book justice.
The Winter People is Jennifer McMahon’s latest literary thriller and ghost story.
The book starts off with words from the diary of a woman named Sara. Sara lived in a small town in Vermont at the turn of the 20th century. Through a brief reflection Sara intimates about her childhood, that her mother had died while giving birth to her and that she was raised by the family’s Native American housekeeper/nanny whom she called “Auntie.” Auntie raised Sara and her brother as her own but her fierce personality and seeming mysteriousness as a Native American renders her a suspicious figure among some in the community.
It is also in this early chapter that Sara describes her first encounter with a “sleeper,” someone who comes back from the dead, in a process that Auntie seems to know quite a bit about and will later share with Sara.
From this point on, the book alternates between Sara’s diary and the present-day story of 19-year-old Ruthie, the current resident of Sara’s home in Vermont more than a century later. Sara’s diary reveals the sudden death of her young daughter Gertie while Ruthie wakes up one day to find her mother missing. In her attempt to find possible clues about her mother’s disappearance, Ruthie finds a boarded up closet in her mother’s bedroom as well as a handgun, drivers licenses of a couple she does not recognize, and Sara’s diary. As the story moves forward, we begin to understand the connection between Sara’s diary, Ruthie’s mother’s disappearance, and the two people pictured in the drivers licenses. Ultimately, this is a story about the mother-daughter bond and about how far a mother will go to care for and protect her child.
I raced through this book. There were a number of twists and turns that made the book hard to put down and I found the ghostly element to be sufficiently creepy to enjoy a few chills but not so frightening that I couldn’t sleep. As a greater fan of realistic fiction than fantasy, I was also satisfied that some of the explanations for the mysteries in the story made sense; that is, not everything was due to supernatural forces.
The book is more plot driven than anything else, and the beginning of the climax felt a bit like a made-for-TV movie to me, but all in all I quite enjoyed the book as a fun, atmospheric, and satisfying break from the classics that I have been reading. I would be interested in checking out Jennifer McMahon’s other books.
Have you read any of Jennifer McMahon’s books? Do you read ghost stories?