A few random thoughts about The Winter Sister by Megan Collins (Atria Books, 2019).
I have a great affection for dysfunctional protagonists who are forced to return to their hometowns. Though maybe because I am one.
The fog that Sylvie is in rang very true to me. Also the ways that this fog can lift, be penetrated, in ways that are not directly tied to good things happening. It was a solid portrait of depression.
It’s set in a small Connecticut town, and while the dynamics of a very divided and heavily class and status conscious town rang true, in other ways the town as Sylvie lived and experienced it felt a little too small and not claustrophobic enough. Meaning that she keeps meeting people related to the murder case but in a small town wouldn’t a lot of people know her, know her mother, and wouldn’t she feel those eyes watching and judging her at all times? Or maybe I’m projecting…
There’s a former detective who sits down with Sylvie to talk about the case and the whole scene, while it was important as to the structure of the book, it was also frustrating. The whole “there’s too much red tape and not enough stock put into hunches and gut feelings” nonsense. No surprise that these cops were unable to solve a murder
I’m unsure about Annie. The portrait of the mother as this fragile and deeply damaged person feels a bit too one dimensional for the large and central role she plays in the book. Of course Sylvie is the central character and the book is about her, but the book conveyed too little sense of who the mother was. Maybe some of that is simply POV, but it felt unsatisfying.
In broad strokes, though, I found the mother-daughter dynamic worked. Maybe some of that is because we never really know our parents. Though of course it’s one thing for Sylvie to not understand her mother, it’s another thing for the reader not to.
In some regards, I had a similar response to the identity of the murderer. The book takes place in a small town and there is a limited cast of characters who could have been responsible. The killer wasn’t just going to be a random stranger we had never met before or something like that.
But in some ways that is the problem with writing small town murder cases. Most murders are committed by people they know. Most murders are committed because of a handful of reasons. And so there were only a few possibilities. Well, there was only one really, even if it wasn’t immediately clear.
The optimistically inclined ending works (is that a phrase? I’m using it) because I know what it feels like to come out of that fog of depression and exhaustion. And Collins doesn’t fall into the trap that things will improve, that everything is looking up, or even that the guilty party will ultimately be held accountable. The journey of the book is more emotional than it is about solving the crime. Which I like.
Overall, a good book. A good first book. And I want to see what Collins does next.