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 young children to recover. Esau, her oldest, is haunted by the same darkness that plagued his father. At twelve years old, he has already been in and out of state psychiatric hospitals, and now, with the help of his mother and sister, he must overcome the forces that drive him deep into himself. But as the youngest, perhaps it is Katie who carries the heaviest burden. A precocious six-year-old who desperately wants to help her mother hold the family together, she will have to come to terms with the memory of her father, who was at once loving and cruel.
"When someone killed himself, it was a waste. No one ever said so, but we knew. My father will kill himself. It will be a waste," says Kate Schiller, recalling her gloomy early years from the vantage point of adulthood. In this moving, occasionally maudlin, debut novel by the author of the memoir Wasted, the Schiller family of smalltown Motley, Minn., is plagued by death: the suicide of six-year-old Kate's Aunt Rose, who hangs herself from the chandelier, is town gossip, and Kate's father, Arnold, is heading toward a similar end. He's unemployed, a charming drunk, obsessed with the descent of Kate's older brother, 12-year-old Esau, into mental illness. When Esau must be taken away to the state hospital at Christmas, Arnold shoots himself in the head. Hornbacher's novel, narrated in the alternating voices of Kate, Esau and their mother, Claire, is the story of the family's response to Arnold's death: how sweet, tormented Esau copes with the news; whether stubborn Kate could have said something to stop her father; how Claire deals with the guilt of having wanted to leave her husband. Hornbacher is a gifted writer, skilled at capturing the intense sensations of childhood and possessed of a particular talent for dialogue, but the indiscriminate ratcheting up of emotion and large doses of wise-child winsomeness give the novel a precious edge. Agent, Sydelle Kramer at the Frances Goldin Literary Agency. 8-city author tour. (Feb. 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
January 31, 2005
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Center of Winter by Marya Hornbacher
It begins with a small town, far north.
Motley, Minnesota, Pop. 442. Near the headwaters of the muddy Mississippi, past the blue glass of the cities and the stained red brick of the warehouse districts, past the long-abandoned train stations and the Grain Belt sign and the Pillsbury Flour building on the riverbanks, past the smokestacks and hulking wrecks of the industrial section, the town lies past all this, in the center of the prairie that creeps north and west of the river, into the Dakotas.
Seen from above, this prairie, its yellow grasses, is dotted sparsely with towns too small for mapmakers' concern.
Just south of Staples, on the county road that runs through the center of town, passing the school at the south edge, Norby's Department Store, Morey's Fish Co., the market with the scarred front porch, the old brick storefronts with small wooden signs on hinges, the painted names of businesses faded and flaked. Morrison's Meats, the Cardinal Cafe. By the time you've noticed that you're passing through, County Road 10 swerves sharply to the left, past Y-Knot Liquors, and all semblance of town disappears, leaving you to wonder if there was a town after all. All you see are acres and acres of field.
On the corner of Madison Street is a pale eggshell-blue house with three steps leading up from the walk and a postage stamp of yard in the back where my mother, when the spirit moved her, gardened feverishly and then let the garden go sprawling untended in the tropical wet of July.
My father would sit on the back porch watching her, sitting the way men here sit: leaned back, feet planted far apart, arms on the arms of the chair, a beer in his right hand. The beer would be sweating.
They met in New York, at a club. They met and got married at city hall, and when I had my mother alone, I demanded she tell me again about the dress she made from curtains, and the red shoes, and the garnet necklace she got for a song. They had a party with cheap wine back at the apartment. I picture it all in rich colors. I remember the club for them, with red walls and small, spattered candles on the tables. Whether it had these things or not is of no concern to me, because it's my story, not theirs.
The garnet necklace is mine now. I keep thinking I ought to get the clasp repaired.
"What were you wearing?"
My mother was soaping my head.
"Sweetheart, I don't remember. Dunk," she said. I dunked and spluttered.
"You have to remember," I insisted. She laughed. "All right," she said, and I could tell she was going to make it up, and I didn't care. "Black. A black coat. And a hat."
"What kind of hat?"
"Katie, for heaven's -- hold still -- what? A hat with a feather." She scrubbed my ears. In the hall my father was yelling for her, and the door opened. She turned to look at him.
"There you are!" he said. "When's dinner?"
"I'm bathing Katie."
"I can see that."
"When I'm done."
He stood there. "Esau's sulking," he said.
My mother turned back to me and started scrubbing my neck ferociously. "What am I supposed to do about it?"
"Hi, Daddy," I said.