A BOY IN WINTER by Maxine Chernoff


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Chernoff (American Heaven, 1996, etc.) describes an intractable tragedy—a young boy unintentionally murders another—with much accuracy and feeling but offers only a narrative shrug when parting with the reader. The boy is 12-year-old Danny, and his victim is Eddie Nova. While goofing off alone in Danny’s house one afternoon, Eddie produces his crossbow and begins pointing it around the living room. Horrified, Danny seizes the weapon, the loaded bow goes off in the struggle, and Eddie is shot through the heart. Danny’s mother, Nancy, opens the story by recounting her conflicted emotions, her sense of personal guilt, and the opacity of tragedy. “We burn for love,” she sighs in one of Chernoff’s poetic aphorisms, “but we only consent to being burned in its absence.” Nancy’s position is complicated because she’s fallen in love with Frank Nova, Eddie’s father and husband to Marilyn. Frank, a paramedic, escapes an emotionally arid marriage by finding relief with Nancy. Naturally devastated by the accident, he inexplicably (though he means no harm) kidnaps Danny after his release from an institution where Danny has told his version of the events while under “observation.” Chernoff’s desire to provide intuitive childlike insights falters here, with passages that are simply childlike. The three come together for the final scene, at a Wisconsin cabin where Frank is hiding with Danny. Along the way, a handful of peripheral characters are inadequately evoked: Marilyn, a cheerleader type not prepared for unhappiness; Riley, an older Irish immigrant who steadies Nancy in her encounter with tragedy; and Ronnie, Frank’s brother, a troubled Vietnam vet who’s a shadow around the edges of the story. The dead hard weight of irredeemable loss lies deep at the center of this evocatively written, ultimately perplexed account, and pulls its meanings down into a darkness that remains unresolved for the reader.

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 1999
ISBN: 0-609-60522-4
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


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