Guy Vanderhaeghe’s new novel ‘August Into Winter’ ‘a master-class in character and storytelling’

Renowned Saskatchewan writer Guy Vanderhaeghe (“The Englishman’s Boy”, “The Last Crossing”) returns with his first novel in nearly a decade, a master class in character and storytelling, revealing a novelist at the peak of its powers. Written in muscular prose with a whiplash narrative drive, “August into Winter” is an epic tale of crime and punishment, the debilitating shadow of war, and the redemptive possibility of love through thick and thin.

It is March 1939, the world is on the brink of another war and there is a series of disturbing incidents in Connaught, a small town on the Prairies. The harmful crimes infecting the community begin innocently enough, with a half-eaten cheese sandwich left on a kitchen counter. Soon they degenerate into pornographic playing cards and sexually posing corsets, with the prowler mocking an increasingly disturbing cat-and-mouse game. As a result, betrayal acts among the citizens of Connaught “like a slow and insidious poison”, and many install locks and place shotguns next to their beds.

Agent Hotchkiss suspects narcissist Ernie Sickert, 21, who “has always been a painful patch of hemorrhoids.” Imagery is a force throughout the novel and particularly in the descriptions of sociopath Sickert, whom Hotchkiss is eager to roll up “like a tube of toothpaste … until the truth springs straight from his mouth. of a son of a bitch “. Cornered, Sickert lashes out and the gruesome result unleashes an escalation of crimes that plague many innocent people in their wake.

Fleeing Connaught with his future wife, the morally bankrupt Sickert is pursued by Corporal Cooper with the help of brothers Jack and Oliver Dill, both World War I veterans, who battle ghosts from the front lines and beyond. . While Jack is plagued by delusions of grandeur and religious hysteria, his younger brother, Oliver, is a widower who, since the death of his wife Judith, has been trying at best “to offer an unconvincing impersonation. of a human being “. Internal storms manifest as dangerous weather conditions that flood the roads and force Sickert to abandon his getaway car and seek refuge at a nearby school where he is found by newly hired teacher Vidalia Taggart, who dodges his own past. and its problems.

Like Oliver Dill, Vidalia Taggart is in mourning. Her former lover, Dov Schechter, had been killed the previous year as part of a volunteer brigade during the Spanish Civil War. His visceral account of those months is all that remains of him in Vidalia, a diary that becomes for her “a talisman, an object of solace and solace”, as she tries to rebuild her life in this strange place. and loaded.

Vanderhaeghe’s characters are quite convincing in their thoughts, words, and deeds. When Sickert’s behavior gets even more out of hand, leaving Vidalia injured and homeless, and Sickert runs for his life, Oliver Dill takes matters into his own hands. First, he arranges for Vidalia to be treated by the town doctor and gives her a break until she is able to think clearly. And then, he traps Sickert for the police, his motive for personal revenge. At home, however, Dill begins to thaw as he and Vidalia share their separate grief, their previously hidden “tattered and mismatched pieces of sadness, resentment, grievance, joy, pride, confusion and joy.” .

And then comes November 11, which begins with the Dill Brothers walking benevolently with other veterans in the town parade, this Remembrance Day unfolds like a Shakespearean tragedy as corpses pile up in Connaught. Ultimately, with luck, the remaining characters will be able to adjust, putting their misfortune behind them to devote themselves to the present business of living and loving.

Vanderhaeghe is a prodigiously gifted storyteller, all the narrative threads are woven here on purpose, his characters complicated and convincing, deeply human in their frangibility.

Janet Somerville is the author of “Yours, for Probably Always: Martha Gellhorn’s Letters of Love & War 1930-1949”, now available in audio, read by Ellen Barkin.

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