Alice Wynter left her familial home in Redding, Maine many years ago and never looked back. She married Gerald Dunn, a successful Wall Street lawyer, created an equally successful career of her own in advertising, and settled into life in Chatham, New Jersey. She thought that by physically distancing herself from the painful memories of her childhood, she could forget the emotional turmoil she suffered, as well.
But a telephone call in the dead of night awakens her and instantly pulls her back to her past. Her mother, Jackie Ruth, begs her to come home because her father, Edward “Papa” Wynter, has died, and her twin brother, Chris, is missing. Alice cannot deny her mother’s request, no matter how much she’d like to. But her emotionally absent husband, Gerald, declines to accompany her, so Alice sets off for Maine — and her troubled family history — on her own.
When Alice arrives in Redding, she is soon drawn back into her memories of the events she survived so many years ago. She recalls her father’s drinking, her brother’s troubled youth and inability to ever grow into manhood and free himself from their father’s domineering influence, and her mother’s quiet tolerance of it all. Worse, on two occasions, she sees a man who bears an eery resemblance to her cousin, Ray, long presumed dead.
Could it be that Ray is still, after all these years, alive and has returned to Redding? Who hated Papa enough to kill him? Where is Chris — is he dead or alive? Could he possibly have murdered his own father? And just how much does Jackie Ruth know, but is refusing to disclose?
Dead of Wynter, the debut novel from author Spencer Seidel, is a tautly constructed mystery thriller that keeps readers guessing about the Wynter family’s numerous secrets until the very last page. The third-person narrative alternates between present-day and 1984, when three troubled young men — Chris Wynter, his first cousin, Ray Wynter, and their friend, Vic Acree — embarked upon a series of increasingly-dangerous acts of vandalism and violence. The three high school boys had no interest in school, instead opting to hang out at the bowling alley, get stoned or drunk, and nurse their resentments toward the students who were popular or academic achievers. When their first misadventure into wreaking mayhem on the small town of Redding leaves them feeing elated, especially since their identities go undetected and they suffer no consequences for their behavior, they continue their dangerous rebellion. Chris and Vic are merely followers. Ray is the mastermind who plots their next crime, while Chris and Vic are too frightened of him to distance themselves. Chris is a particularly reluctant participant.
Before long, Ray commits an act so heinous and unthinkable that Chris is wracked with revulsion and guilt. But his desire to confess is outweighed by his fear of Ray, who becomes terrifyingly emboldened and confident as a result of his own conduct. To make his point, Ray not only threatens and, eventually, physically attacks Chris, but also harms Alice in order to extract Chris’s silence.
Seidel skillfully explores the way that a single act by one individual can impact an entire town, with the fall-out and repercussions reverberating decades later. Back in 1984, Ray’s singular impulse to act out violently and Chris’s ill-fated decision to participate in that act set into motion a chain of events and related events — actions and reactions — that have culminated more than twenty-five years later in the murder of one man, Papa Wynter, and the disappearance of his son. And brought Alice back to confront how her early life experiences have informed and influenced her marriage and the choices she has made through the years.
Dead of Wynter is not about Maine. It’s about characters who happen to live in Maine because the author of their story loves Maine, spring, summer, fall, and yes, even winter. . . . I have an unusual affinity for Maine that I can’t quite explain. Of all the places I’ve lived in or visited, none but Maine seemed quite right for Dead of Wynter. Rural Maine seemed perfect somehow.~ Author Spencer Seidel
Through Alice, Seidel also explores the theme of acknowledgment of and reconciliation with one’s past. For Alice, the trip home dredges up memories of events and persons that she has spent years actively trying to forget. Rather than confront what happened to her in Redding, Alice secured college scholarships and escaped to the comfort of a new life in a new town making new friends as a college student. It was in college that she met and fell in love with Gerald. After they married and established their careers, she focused upon her life with him, returning to Redding only a couple of times since leaving. On one occasion, she traveled home to support Chris’s stint in a rehabilitation facility, but it became obvious that he had no intention of working to maintain his sobriety. Nor did her parents ever change. Her mother enabled her father’s alcoholism and dominance over Chris, the two of them hanging out in the local tavern each night. Indeed, it was in that tavern that the nightmare to which Alice has returned kicked into high gear.
Seidel demonstrates that you can run from your past, but you cannot hide from it indefinitely. Eventually, Alice is forced to deal with all the issues she has evaded for so many years, including the reasons why she has been as emotionally and physically unavailable to Gerald as he has been to her. Alice is forced to acknowledge that the love she and Gerald once shared has most assuredly waned because of her behavior as much as Gerald’s. And despite a tantalizing dalliance with an old flame in Redding, who represents comfort and security at at time when she really needs both, she must decide whether she wants to return to Chatham and attempt to repair her marital relationship. In the aftermath of the events that take place in Redding, Alice must also find a way to achieve peace concerning her relationship with her mother, a woman she readily admits to simultaneously loving and hating.
Fast-paced and engrossing, Dead of Wynter offers surprising plot twists and seemingly endless complications before Seidel manages to wring the last drop of intrigue from his characters. Unveiling the mysteries through a narrative set in two different time periods was a highly effective story-telling technique. Just when the reader learns about an event in 1984 that seems relevant to the current action, something occurs in the present that causes the reader to question the conclusions already drawn. Yet the parallel stories unravel in perfectly timed synchronicity so that all of the pieces of the puzzle fall neatly into place at just the right time.
In this story, the emphasis is clearly on what happened, rather than why Ray, Chris, and Vic were motivated to act out in such a destructive manner. Perhaps Seidel’s point is that no one can ever know for sure why another human being behaves in a particular manner, but must still deal with the aftermath. However, because she has been forced by her circumstances to engage in introspection, by the end of the tale, Alice finds she has a “new self, the smashed together Alice Wynter and Alice Dunn.” Having made peace with her past, she looks to the future through new eyes, able to see possibilities in a way she previously could not. It is a satisfying conclusion to a highly entertaining story that will make readers glad they went along with Alice on her journey back to Redding, Maine.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Dead of Wynter free of charge from the author in conjunction with Media Muscle book campaigns. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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