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The Winter in Anna


The Winter in Anna

Occasionally you open a book and know from the very first page that it’s going to be important to you. This was my experience with THE WINTER IN ANNA. I confess I read this novel last July, when being outside in New York felt akin to what it must be like to be in someone’s mouth; when the city’s residents all flee to the Hamptons and relinquish it to the tourists; when I was at home recouping after a two-week hospital stay for a particularly unpleasant bout of pneumonia.

I sat in the armchair my parents ordered from Amazon Prime with a glass of chocolate milk and my copy of the novel. By the end of page two, I was completely enamored. Subsequently, I only left the armchair to refill my glass or hobble slowly to the bathroom until I’d finished the book.

THE WINTER IN ANNA is narrated by Rick Valery, in present day a successful journalist, husband and father, after he learns of Anna’s suicide. Anna was a friend, a colleague of Rick’s at his very first newspaper job in Shannon, North Dakota, 20 or so years before. Rick has left school abruptly after his father suffers a stroke and his girlfriend breaks up with him. His last act on campus is to grab an ad from a job board for a sports editor at The Shannon Sentinel. Rick drives from Minnesota to Shannon without looking back and takes the job without hesitation.

"Occasionally you open a book and know from the very first page that it’s going to be important to you. This was my experience with THE WINTER IN ANNA."

A month later he’s offered the position as editor of the paper, a small-town weekly rag owned by Louise and Art, an older couple who also own and run a printing business. As editor of The Sentinel, Rick begins to work more closely with Anna, a pretty, slight woman with a smoker’s rasp and two children. Anna is quiet, both in voice and demeanor, and always wears too-long sleeves, habitually pulling them down. She writes for and edits the paper, and, at Rick’s suggestion, begins to photograph stories.

As time passes and cold descends, Anna retreats into herself. When the snow falls and winter settles in for a long stay, Rick comes to learn Anna’s story. An only child and a farmer’s daughter, she grew up in the Badlands of North Dakota. She met a man from the South and fell in love immediately with his drawl and charisma. They married soon after, both young, one naïve. And Anna’s life started to go poorly in a tin trailer in the middle of desolation.

The mystery of Anna’s past unfolds over the course of the novel as her friendship and working relationship with Rick --- whom she calls Eric --- strengthens. After reporting the bigger goings-on in Shannon, their little paper wins some accolades, and Rick, with a push from Anna, finds the courage to move on and away from Shannon. As he begins a successful journalism career, he falls out of touch with her, revisiting her memory only when he learns of her suicide.

Reed Karaim’s prose is so visually stunning that it becomes all-encompassing. He transports you so effortlessly from wherever you are to Shannon, North Dakota, with its plateaus and fields and little Main Street that you could swear you were just there for a weekend visit. I’ve not been to North Dakota, but I’d close my eyes and see the Badlands in winter and again in the autumn, or Main Street alive with festivities to celebrate the town’s 120th year. I stood next to Rick and Anna during the fire at the barn, and helped them hand papers to those sandbagging the river when it threatened to flood.

The way the prose reads --- powerful and quiet --- mirrors the character of Anna. It weaves itself through the already-known tragedy, and the results are a beautiful story about friendship and regret; the internal struggle every human harbors but doesn’t disclose; and how time can and cannot heal all wounds. It was a book I needed to read at a moment in my life when everything seemed on the edge of going badly and miraculously didn’t. Of the 48 books I read in 2016 (don’t be too impressed; I was finishing my MFA), THE WINTER IN ANNA was the best one.

Reviewed by Sarah Jackman on January 20, 2017

The Winter in Anna
by Reed Karaim

  • Publication Date: January 17, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393608506
  • ISBN-13: 9780393608502