This is a solid horror story. Part psychological, part supernatural. It’s my first Dan Simmons novel and I’m told it isn’t his best, but I enjoyed it. Got creeped out at times. Liked all the literary references. Kept me guessing and worrying about what was going to happen next. Made me happy I don’t live alone. Even after finishing it I find myself thinking about its twists and turns.
A once-respected college professor and novelist, Dale Stewart has sabotaged his career and his marriage — and now darkness is closing in on him. In the last hours of Halloween he has returned to the dying town of Elm Haven, his boyhood home, where he hopes to find peace in isolation. But moving into a long-deserted farmhouse on the far outskirts of town — the one-time residence of a strange and brilliant friend who lost his young life in a grisly “accident” back in the terrible summer of 1960 — is only the latest in his long succession of recent mistakes. Because Dale is not alone here. He has been followed to this house of shadows by private demons who are now twisting his reality into horrifying new forms. And a thick, blanketing early snow is starting to fall ….
A Winter Haunting is the second horror novel in a row that I’ve read that goes beyond just tipping its hat to Henry James. In this book James’s short story “The Jolly Corner” (1908) looms large. In the prior horror story I read, The Turning (2012) by Francine Prose, it was “The Turn of the Screw” (1898). Makes me want to read more James.
Another book that’s mentioned is James Dickey’s Deliverance (1970), which I recently finished and have been digesting. This book is set in rural Illinois, in the central part of the state, and there’s a small gang of neo-Nazis involved. Not that there were neo-Nazis in Deliverance, but there was the violence of rural, backwards people and the threat of the wilderness to modern man. Similar things going on here in some ways. There are dozens of other literary references–from The Egyptian Book of the Dead to Beowulf to Proust–so this is a fun book for book nerds. Computer geeks will enjoy the ThinkPad the protagonist uses (DOS is part of the plot!).
As I said, A Winter Haunting is set in Illinois, where I live, so it was the perfect pre-Halloween read for me. I plan on giving it away tomorrow for All Hallow’s Read.
If any wants to recommend which Dan Simmons novel I should read next, I’m all ears!