Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review of Winter Haven by Athol Dickson

I enjoyed this book so much that I read it in one day. I found all the characters interesting and their dilemmas fascinating. The main character, Vera, has an interesting history with an overbearing faith-healer pastor father and an autistic brother who spoke using Scripture and herself with visions of her brother surrounded by white. Later she learned to call her times of vision and collapse epilepsy, but since her father refused to call doctors, she had to feel her own way through things. And she had to use his interpretation of his abuse and anger at her.
I loved the beautiful descriptions of the granite island fifty miles off the coast of Maine, where Vera must go to claim the body of her brother found on one of the island's beaches. But she cannot at first believe the body is her brother's as he has not aged in the thirteen years since he ran away from home. And he has on his body a Viking artifact.
The story grows spooky as Vera is chased by a ghost and showers of stones like the ones on the beach where her brother was found, and warnings from her angry landlord and the island sheriff. Who can she trust and believe on an island filled with hostile people and ghost stories?
In the end, she solves the mysteries and makes almost everyone tell the truth. And the truth sets her free.
I liked the descriptions of the autistic brother and the problems he created in church for his father. After I read an article about a research project involving siblings to autistic people when we were living in Alaska and attending a church where the people did not want to deal with our daughter's severe autism, I asked my oldest son  what it was like having an autistic sister. In the pause between my question and his answer, my daughter squealed and then groaned in the basement (she is still non-verbal, which does not mean quiet.) My son answered that it was like living with a wookie in the basement. We've called her Wookie, ever since, because if you tell her "No." she might rip your arm off. So we've had to come up with all sorts of new strategies to live with that.  When I see autistics described as Indigo Children or wise sages, I lose all patience. A high enough percentage of those of us on the spectrum are savant so that I can stand another literary description of a savant autistic, which we have here. Vera's brother has memorized the Bible in several languages. That turns out to be a useful savant skill (most aren't) though it is misused by the father as he tries to maintain his status as a healer.
Elegantly written with a satisfying puzzle and plot, I can recommend this book to anybody who likes good literature and is not scared by charismatic gifts.