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The Dakota Winters

Review

The Dakota Winters

Tom Barbash’s new novel, THE DAKOTA WINTERS, follows the Winter family as they navigate significant familial upheaval against the backdrop of the tumultuous political and social issues rocking New York City and the country in 1980.

The Winter family resides in the Dakota, a fitting backdrop for their tale, and at times the building itself feels like a character in the novel. Well-known talk show host and patriarch Buddy Winter is recovering from a very public breakdown, and his son Anton’s job with the Peace Corps in Gabon is cut short when he contracts life-threatening malaria and is sent home to recover. Anton’s mother is busy with Teddy Kennedy’s failing presidential campaign, while the remaining two siblings reside on the sidelines hoping Buddy will return to his pre-breakdown self.

"THE DAKOTA WINTERS is a charming, character-driven novel that is witty, clever and touching. Readers will revel in Anton’s descriptions of a city and an era that are long gone."

From some time in the future, Anton effectively narrates the story, recounting his memories and thoughts about the Winter family in that tempestuous year. As Anton searches for his place in the world, he comes to understand that he must step out of his father’s shadow and make his own way. Concurrently, Buddy is still recovering from his breakdown and relies heavily on Anton to prop him up and help relaunch his career. As a result, the family dynamics are changing, and Anton and Buddy’s relationship is shifting and at times strained. Throughout the story, Anton compares the upheaval in the world during that year to the upheaval in the Winter family: “[a]t night I’d dream about revolutions and disease and marauding animals; one night one of them had a face that looked disturbingly like my father’s.”

Using the Dakota as the Winters’ residence allows Barbash to introduce a variety of characters into the story in a realistic manner, most famously John Lennon. Lennon and Yoko Ono owned four apartments in the Dakota during this time period, and he was also attempting to reinvigorate his career that year. Incorporating his tale into THE DAKOTA WINTERS is an interesting plot choice, and readers familiar with Lennon’s story will be saddened as the year and the book are coming to a close, anticipating his untimely and sad end. Throughout the book, Barbash weaves in fascinating details about the Dakota, including the water-powered elevators, lobbies on every floor, and, back in the earlier years, a full-service dining room complete with stained-glass finger bowls and silver cutlery.

Certain years mark periods of cultural and social tumult, and frequently contain events that are seared in the memory and consciousness of a generation or multiple generations. 1980 is one such year for the entire United States, with Lennon’s assassination, the Iran hostage crisis and the botched rescue mission, rioting in Miami when four white officers are acquitted after beating an innocent black man to death, the dawn of CNN, Reagan’s election, and the United States’ boycott of the Summer Olympics. For New Yorkers, 1980 was a time of increased crime in the city, a subway killer who randomly pushed innocent individuals onto the subway tracks, and Guardian Angels patrolling the subways. Barbash’s choice to mirror Anton’s and Buddy’s conflicts with the wider societal conflicts broadens the story and provides an interesting context for the tale.

THE DAKOTA WINTERS is a charming, character-driven novel that is witty, clever and touching. Readers will revel in Anton’s descriptions of a city and an era that are long gone.

Reviewed by Cindy Burnett on December 7, 2018

The Dakota Winters
by Tom Barbash

  • Publication Date: December 4, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0062258192
  • ISBN-13: 9780062258199