And After The Winter, Sere Prince Halverson
When the novel begins, the reader learns that three of the four members of the Glenn Winkel family, of Caboose, Alaska, had been killed in a tragic, small plane crash two decades earlier. Kachemak Winkel, 18 years old at the time, had remained at home and was, therefore, the sole survivor of his immediate family. After the crash, in an effort to put the terrible loss of his parents and his brother behind him, he unceremoniously, and without warning, moved to California, abandoning Alaska, his father’s sister Snag, and his grandmother Lettie. They remained there and were supposed to care for the homestead. Over the twenty years that passed, he had had only occasional contact with them. When his father’s now 60 year old twin sister, Aunt Snag, contacted him about the impending death of his grandmother, Lettie, 38 year old Kache returned to the homestead to try and pick up the pieces of his life. He had recently lost his job and, coincidentally, his long time girlfriend so his return fell into place rather neatly.
Arriving in Alaska, Kache discovered that a young woman named Nadia, from a community called the Old Believers, had been living in his parents’ homestead and caring for the property by herself. She had many secrets and had not been exposed to very much of the outside world. She had lived there for ten years, alone, and she was completely self sufficient, but she was also terrified of him. Old Believers were a tribe of people from Russia. They did not integrate themselves into modern society and lived in remote parts of Alaska. Their community had split off into several different factions, as well, with some being stricter than others regarding the acceptance of modern technology and amenities.
While the novel promised to be a book about life in Alaska, including some interesting information about an unusual community of people called the Old Believers, about whom there was little known, the book became more of a fairytale, a kind of love story with an aspect of mystery and danger tossed in to make it more interesting. While there were some noteworthy facts about the hardship of life in Alaska, the beauty of its landscape, and a few tidbits about the Old Believers, the story didn’t develop into much more than a beach read. It held my interest, but the dialogue often felt corny and hackneyed when representing conversations between the two main characters who were consenting adults, even if one was supposed to be totally unsophisticated and unworldly. In the end, that less informed, young character seemed better informed and more developed than all of the rest of them. Each of them had some kind of a secret which caused them shame and, in some cases, much unwarranted guilt. Each of them blamed themselves for incidents over which they had no control and could not have prevented or caused. As the novel moved ahead, the story traveled back and forth in time revealing each character’s weaknesses and pain, each character’s personal struggles.
I wanted it to be the kind of a book I would savor each night, not wanting it to end, but it seemed very simplistic and predictable. On the positive side, the chapters were very short and flew by, making it very easy to read. The characters resolved their issues and all of the ends tied up neatly. There was little left to be guessed about how the lives of the characters would continue after the final page. I had higher hopes for this book when I first began to read it since it was chosen by a literary guild to which I belonged. Instead, it seemed too saccharine and conventional with most of the current problems of today included for good measure, such as sexual choice, alcoholism, and the need to escape from life when it presented itself without its glory, with problems that seemed insurmountable. Each character chose to face their personal challenges in a different way, and yet each one chose the same way, escape and avoidance. Discovering the choices they made and why they made them was the most interesting aspect of the book for me. There were repercussions that influenced each person they touched over which they had no control. The reader will be left wondering if the choices each character made had a positive or negative influence on their future lives and if the choices they made were wise when made or foolishly impetuous. The readers might wonder how they might have reacted in each particular situation.