All the Winters After
“a winner read that should appeal to a variety of literary and genre tastes.”
All novelists strive for what all readers want: that moment when you open a book and it grabs you by the throat and pulls you in to another place and time, another person’s reality.
Thus opens All the Winters After, and it keeps you pinioned inside the covers until it’s over and you emerge blinking and shaking your head.
As stories go, it’s not unique: a literary exploration of grief and recovery. Uniqueness comes from its “Only in Alaska” quality, where someone can live in somebody else’s house, undiscovered, for ten years.
That’s what Nadia does, burrowing into the Winkel homestead upon fleeing a sadistic husband. She comes from an isolated Russian community of Old Believers, and happened to make her break and stumble upon the Winkel place after they abandoned it. They did so when most of the family died in a plane crash, and the survivors fled because they couldn’t cope with the loss—or their guilt.
But finally, two decades later, the remaining son returns, called home by his aunt to see his grandmother before she passes on.
Kache, named for the Kachemak Bay his family homestead overlooks to the Kanai Mountains, goes out to the property to inspect it. Instead of the decaying pile of rubble he expects, he finds the place preserved from the day he ran away—and occupied by Nadia.
Their mutual shock catalyzes change in all directions among all the characters. Things start happening, and keep happening, until everyone’s demons are exorcised and love, light, and life resume.
The story is told through the revolving viewpoints of Nadia, Kache, his aunt Snag, and her 98-year-old mother Lettie, who built the original homestead. These viewpoint changes braid together the long and complex tragedy of two families in an amazing place.
Southern Alaska, lovingly and accurately evoked by an author who knows it well, not only forms the characters’ lives but also is one of the few places this story could occur. The rawness of backcountry life there is beyond what most readers have experienced or can imagine. Yet the author presents it matter-of-factly, as she does the characters’ grief and transformation. All their wallowing took place offstage in the decades before the story opens. In the way of good fiction, the story opens at the point when things change.
There are spots in the narrative that get a little corny or sappy, and a whole section that’s predictable, but by then we’re invested in the people and place and must read on to find out what becomes of them. And though the ending is inevitable and right for the characters, it still requires a box of hankies.
This combination makes All the Winters After a winner read that should appeal to a variety of literary and genre tastes.