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A Winter Haunting

Dan Simmons

WM Morrow

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-380-97886-5

Publication Date: 01-22-2002

303 Pages ; Price $25.95

Date Reviewed: 02-14-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002




01-25-02,02-14-02,03-18-02, 04-15-02, 5-30-02, 10-08-02, 02-25-03, 04-30-03, 10-22-03, 10-29-03

Dan Simmons has written just about every kind of horror story. He's given us mind-vampires in 'Carrion Comfort', Big American Horror in 'Summer of Night' and blood drinking vampires in its first sequel 'Children of the Night'. He's resurrected Hawaiian Gods in 'Fires of Eden', creepy cults in 'Song of Kali' and nasty far-eastern monsters in 'Lovedeath'. So, it was about time for him to try a subtle, psychological ghost story, and it arrives with 'A Winter's Haunting'. In it, he follows up on one of the main characters from 'Summer of Night'. Forty years on, Dale Stewart, bad writer and college professor is just about done ruining his nice suburban life. Simmons brings us in for the final round.

'A Winter's Haunting' starts with an impossibility -- but such is Simmons' skill that you'll follow it into the narrative. Dale Stewart dumps his wife and child for a coed, who proceeds to dump him. Having failed even at suicide, Stewart decides to run away from the scenes of his crimes and shack up in a lonely farm in Elm Haven, Illinois, where the events of 'Summer of Night' took place. Turns out that Dale doesn't remember much of that summer, and what he does remember he's writing about as if it were sunny and boringly idyllic. But the ugly haunts of the present -- neo-Nazi punks -- and the persistence of the past will change that.

Simmons isn't particularly subtle about Stewart's psychological problems. He actually hits the reader over the head several times with his Henry James comparisons, recapping for the reader the plot of James' 'The Jolly Corner'. There's a reason for all this heavy-handedness, because while he's whacking you upside the head in one arena, Simmons is sneaking up on you in another. He's doing all this in the midst of a whirlwind plot that will keep the pages turning at a phenomenal rate. 'A Winter Haunting' reads like a beach-blanket bestseller, but there's clearly a lot more going on here than the reader initially suspects.

One of the main things that's going on is that Stewart and Simmons are laying in the foreground for the creation of 'Summer of Night', which itself functions as a background for this novel. It's a very nice Moebius twist that fits in with the frenzied action that concludes the novel. However, readers should be warned that they'll get a lot more out of 'A Winter Haunting' if they've read 'Summer of Night'. And if you've read 'Summer of Night', chances are you will want to re-read it with the new perspective offered in this novel. And following that, 'A Winter Haunting' will bear another reading. Fine ghost stories, no matter how fast and easily they are read, are complex, insightful machines. They run smoothly every time you start them.