Book Review: ‘A Winter Haunting’ by Dan Simmons

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Dan Simmons is one of those authors I stumbled upon by accident while browsing through my local bookstore. I saw this book entitled The Terror in the bargain section. It looked interesting enough so I decided to give it a shot.  After reading a few chapters, I couldn’t put it down. I wrote a review of The Terror so you can see what it’s all about.

Fast forward a year and I decide to come back to Dan Simmons. This time I buy his novel A Winter Haunting as an ebook. I didn’t find it as enjoyable as The Terror, but it kept me entertained.

The novel centers around down-and-out English professor Dale Stewart, who decides to take his sabbatical in his old home town of Elm Haven, Illinois. His wife has left him, his career as a writer is stagnant and a love affair that ended abruptly, has left him depressed, with one suicide attempt and a cocktail of antidepressants.

Dale decides some time in Elm Haven to work on a new novel will be good therapy. He wants to write about the summer of 1960, the year one of his childhood friends, Duane McBride, died in a freak accident with a grain combine. Dale thinks he’s finally going to write a novel worthy of the literary merit he craves.

What happens is much more terrifying. The haunting events of the summer of 1960 comes back in a way that Dale never imagined. Dale faces a winter of ghosts of past acqauintances, mysterious and cryptic messages on his computer, a pack of vicious dogs and a sheriff bent on terrorizing more than protecting (despite things are never what they seem).

As I read, I found that Dale isn’t entirely without blame. Instead of renting an apartment or a nice little house, he decides to stay in the house of his friend Duane McBride. Dale even sleeps in Duane’s bed in the basement (creepy!). He thinks the house will somehow inspire his novel. Even more strange is that the house has been abandoned for years, with the upstairs completely sealed off with old plastic sheets.

What I found really interesting though, is the narrative style of the novel. Most of the novel is written in your garden variety 3rd person. However, the narration switches to first person throughout the story. The reader gets a chance to hear from young Duane, 40-plus years after his death. Duane’s narration provides some further insight into the plot and he also foreshadows some of the terrifying events Dale would soon face.

I fear to go any further because I don’t want to ruin the novel for those of you planning on reading it. Would I recommend A Winter Haunting? Yes, I definitely recommend it.

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