Hellnotes review: A Winter Haunting

A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons
(William Morrow, 320 pp, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN #0-380-97886-5)
reviewed by Bev Vincent

In Summer of Night, young Dale Stewart and his friends defeated a terrible evil.  This sequel picks up Dale’s story forty-one years later.  A tumultuous affair with one of his students has destroyed his marriage and jeopardized his career.  His grip on reality has been tenuous in the year since he attempted a Hemingway-esque end to his life.

Dale has forgotten almost everything important about 1960, including the way his friend Duane McBride died.  The novel he intends to write on his sabbatical at McBride farm should be Summer of Night, but he cannot get past an idyllic curtain of false memories to the truth.

Where Summer of Night was set against the backdrop of humid days and rainy nights, A Winter Haunting is its mirror image: frigid, snowy and barren.  In Summer, several friends collaborated against the evil in Old Central School.  Winter is a solitary adventure; Dale’s struggle is almost completely internal as he battles with his perceptions of reality, past and present.  That’s not to say there aren’t horror trappings here – spectral hounds roam the farm, growing larger with each visit, and mysterious old-English messages appear on his computer.  But this is horror of the Henry James variety, subtle and restrained — the ghosts of the past may be literal or figurative.

Simmons uses Duane as a window into Dale’s mind.  Unsure of his own nature, Duane describes himself as a “cyst of memory.”  His recollection is limited to details from the summer of ’60 Dale witnessed personally, leaving it open for readers to decide if Duane is a spectral manifestation or a figment of Dale’s tormented and depressed psyche.

Dan Simmons invariably produces examples of the best art his current genre has to offer.  A Winter Haunting is dark, intelligent and sensitive. His depiction of an unstable protagonist is handled with the necessary balance to lend the story ambiguity. Simmons’ action-adventure skills from books like Darwin’s Blade bleed over into his horror when Dale confronts a band of skinheads who object to his political views.  This is a fine book to curl up in front of the fire with on a cold, blustery evening. Just make sure the doors are locked …<

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