The Winter Girl by Matt Marinovich

At a borrowed home in the Hamptons, a couple pulling away from one another are drawn toward the house next door–and its secrets.

winter girl

Matt Marinovich’s The Winter Girl is a brief, chilling story of boredom’s path to crime and secrets uncovered.

Scott and Elise have decamped from New York City to the Hamptons, where they are staying at Elise’s father Victor’s house in unaccustomed splendor while he dies in the hospital of cancer. Their lives have been put on hold as Elise spends her days visiting with Victor and Scott mopes around the house, drinking Victor’s liquor cabinet dry. His career as a photographer has fallen off, although he still takes his camera out to the lake some days. His marriage to Elise is failing, for reasons that are more a natural drift than explicitly detailed. As Scott tells it, “Slowly, we’ve stolen the best parts of each other, carted ourselves away.” It is winter; the backdrop to Scott’s malaise is stark.

In his boredom, Scott starts watching the house next door, which clearly has been emptied for the winter. Every night he watches the light switch off on its timer at 11 p.m. He grows a little obsessed, so the next move is clear: while Elise is at the hospital one day, he breaks in, just to have a look around. “I felt like a suburban astronaut, exploring an abandoned home in which the crew had gone missing.” This is exciting, thrillingly illicit, and he brings Elise in for the fun, which has the perhaps surprising effect of reviving their passion. It also starts a string of increasingly criminal and disturbing thoughts and actions, and begins to unravel a long-guarded tangle of secrets. Just as tension has begun to build, Victor announces he will return home to die. But he seems to be getting stronger, not weaker. Questions pile up. What is really happening to Victor? And what is in the house next door?

Told in Scott’s first-person perspective, The Winter Girl offers strengths in its unsettling tone and moody, atmospheric setting. The events Scott relates become a little surreal in his off-hand telling; the reader is challenged to buy into his perspective, or stand back and try to see matters in a calmer light. Marinovich (Strange Skies) offers an unnerving and entertaining story. However, as the revelations mount, their pacing feels a bit rushed: the stakes rise steeply enough as to be a little jarring. On the whole, though, the experience is exhilarating, if a little leeway is allowed for accelerating surprises. And the dramatic denouement leaves the reader eager for more.

This review originally ran in the December 22, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.

Rating: 6 times I felt a little rushed.

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