Onyx reviews: A
Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons
Dale Stewart has been wandering between the world of the living and the world
of the dead ever since the day—over a year ago—when he attempted a
Hemingway-esque end to his life. The shotgun shell bearing the firing pin's
indentation travels with him as he returns to Illinois, his childhood home. He
has abandoned his wife and family, become obsessed with a former lover and
jeopardized his career. He hopes a sabbatical in the place where he spent his
formative years will provide the inspiration he needs to write a novel.
Forty-one years ago, Dale and his friends defeated a terrible evil, an adventure
recounted in Simmons' 1991 novel Summer of Night. Dale recalls
little of the true events of that long-ago time. His remembers instead a lush
summer filled with nostalgia and youthful exuberance.
Not everyone survived that ordeal—Duane McBride died horribly at the hands of
the demonic forces tearing their little town apart. It is to Duane's family home
that Dale has returned. McBride farm, which Duane called The Jolly Corner, the
title of a Henry James ghost story, is completely isolated. Several miles from
town, it has no telephone lines and Dale's cell phone doesn't work there. He
sets up his computer, stocks the house with groceries and sets about writing.
Soon someone—or something—tries to communicate with him through his
computer, leaving strange messages in old English or High German, sinister
Dale wonders if there is a presence at McBride farm. Mysterious lights appear in
the closed-off second floor. Spectral dogs roam the farm getting larger with
each appearance. He also has to contend with a group of contentious skinheads
who take violent issue with essays he once posted on the Internet.
Where Summer of Night was set against the backdrop of humid, hot
days and nights, summer rains and tornados, A Winter Haunting is its
mirror image, frigid, snowy and barren. Summer recounted a group
effort, several friends collaborating to defeat the evil in Old Central School. Winter is a solitary adventure; Dale's struggle is almost completely
A Winter Haunting is a tauter, more introspective book than its
predecessor. The author says, "Each book changes the 'reality' of the
other, depending on which novel one reads first. The idea was to create a Mobius
strip of perceptions." The novel Dale intends to write should be Summer of
Night, but he cannot get past the idyllic curtain of his
Simmons uses Duane McBride, the dead eleven-year-old, as the window into Dale's
mind. Duane is unsure of his own nature, describing himself as a "cyst of
memory." His memories are limited to things Dale would know, details from
the summer of '60. He knows nothing Dale did not witness for himself. In this
way, Simmons leaves it open for the reader to decide if Duane is a spectral
manifestation or a figment of Dale's tormented, depressed, untrustworthy mind.
To survive his winter in Elm Haven, Dale will need to come to grips with his
past. Familiarity with events and characters from Summer of Night
will substantially enhance a reader's enjoyment of this book, especially when
Simmons recounts the fates of some of the characters. Two appear as secondary
characters in Winter but this psychological horror thriller is
primarily about Dale and his struggle to regain a firm grip on reality, past and
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