What if you could bring the dead back to life? If you’ve read Stephen King or seen any number of classic horror movies, it should be pretty obvious that this is never a good idea. A character says as much near the beginning of this book, only to be told that someday, she just may love someone enough to seriously consider it.
Indeed. A mother loses her child. A woman loses her husband. Two children lose their mother. Loss is everywhere in this book, and Stephen King nightmares aside, how much can we really blame anyone for wanting just a few extra days with a loved one?
That being said, as we all know, the reality is never as good as we imagine. In Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People reanimated corpses called sleepers are rumoured to haunt the woods, and in classic horror story tradition, these sleepers turn out to be rather thirsty for human blood. Reviews on Goodreads have compared it to Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, which either I’ve never read or it freaked me out so much I’ve blocked it completely from my memory. If you have read it, that might give you an idea of what to expect.
There is a Stephen King feel to McMahon’s book, particularly near the end. The story spans over a century, and refers to several mysterious deaths over the years, but McMahon keeps her focus tight and intimate. There is Sara in 1908, who has grown up hearing tales of sleepers in the woods from her Auntie who practices dark magic. When Sara’s daughter Gertie dies, Sara’s desire to be reunited with her leads to mysterious knocks in the night and notes in childish handwriting suggesting Gertie had been murdered.
The story switches between Sara’s story and the present day, with sisters Ruthie and Fawn living in the house Sara used to live. When their mother goes missing, their search for answers leads them to discover Sara’s story and realize that the tales of sleepers in the woods may be real after all. Also in the present day is Katherine, who discovers her husband met with a mysterious woman before he died, and her investigation into the last day of his life leads her to Ruthie and Fawn, and to Sara’s story.
It’s a scary book, though the supernatural elements weren’t quite explored enough to haunt the reader past the last page. The reveal about Gertie’s murderer mostly just confused me, and I had to flip back to see what I’d missed, and with regard to the ending, a couple of the characters appear far too easily accepting of their fates. Overall, it’s a good weekend read, an atmospheric, creepy tale that I can easily imagine being adapted for screen.
Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.