Mind of Winter
We're just coming off of an extremely long winter, one in which nearly everyone I know, regardless of where they live in the country, was plagued for months by crippling snow or ice storms, extended bouts of frigid weather, or both. I read Laura Kasischke's new novel, MIND OF WINTER, on a relatively warm spring day, but the whole time I was reading it, I was grateful that this winter was behind me. The book is creepy enough in the springtime, but would be downright terrifying to read during a blizzard like the one Kasischke depicts.
MIND OF WINTER takes place in a single day --- Christmas Day, no less. Holly and her husband Eric oversleep, a prospect that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier when their daughter Tatiana was younger. This reminder that Tatiana is now a teenager and no longer a child eagerly awakening them bright and early on Christmas morning has Holly thinking a lot about the past, even once she finally gets out of bed and begins preparations for hosting the large gathering of family and friends they hold each Christmas.
"Kasischke's novel is written without chapter breaks, a structure that contributes to the incessant suspense and mounting horror --- as well as the inclination to finish the book without stopping."
In particular, Holly casts her mind back to another Christmas, over a decade ago, when they went to a Russian orphanage to first meet Tatiana, who was just a toddler at the time. She wakes up on this particular Christmas morning with one pervasive thought running through her mind: "Something had followed them home from Russia." Holly doesn't know what kind of evil they brought back along with young Tatiana; all she knows is that this could be the explanation for all the bizarre phenomena (from mysteriously scratched CDs to Eric's benign growth) the family has experienced since Tatiana's adoption.
Holly, a poet who has had writer's block since before Tatiana's adoption, feels compelled to write down her thoughts about this "something" from Russia, but is continually distracted by party preparations and the rapidly intensifying snowstorm outside. Eric has gone to the airport to pick up his parents, leaving Holly and Tatiana alone. Holly's thoughts about the past, combined with Tatiana's intensity and erratic behavior, combine to create an atmosphere of dread and danger that is quite at odds with the idea of a merry Christmas.
Kasischke's novel is written without chapter breaks, a structure that contributes to the incessant suspense and mounting horror --- as well as the inclination to finish the book without stopping. As the snow piles up outside Holly and Tatiana's house, the reader feels as trapped as the characters do, eager to discern if Tatiana's oddities are real or just in Holly's imagination. Kasischke, herself a poet, has a tendency to overuse exclamation points for emphasis. Overall, however, MIND OF WINTER is carefully written to create a creepy sense of claustrophobic unease.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 2, 2014