Midwinter Break

In Bernard MacLaverty's Midwinter Break, Stella and Gerry are a married couple from Glasgow on an Amsterdam holiday in the dead of winter. They've been together 40 years. Gerry is a retired architect who drinks too much. Stella is a retired teacher who does crossword puzzles to stave off a family history of dementia: "What would it be like.... To have slalomed all obstacles only to arrive at a white-out. Then a black-out. Then nothing." Although entangled by years of conjugal idiosyncrasies, clever badinage and the humdrum messiness of married life, they are drifting towards a separation. Gerry observes: "When one strong magnet is aimed at another they refuse, they skid off each other." Stella is less metaphorical as she tells him: "The family is raised--the work's done.... I want to do something with the time I've left. Other than watch you drink."

Booker shortlisted Bernard MacLaverty (Grace Notes) perfectly captures the subtle nuances and habits of the long married. Gerry and Stella know where each sets their reading glasses. He always takes her elbow when crossing busy streets. They habitually brush a kiss when in an empty elevator. Gerry solicitously rides the escalator on her downside lest she fall. Midwinter Break is a remarkable literary achievement. It's an adult novel about an aging couple facing their last years--either together or apart. If together, it will be mostly up to the practical Stella to make it happen, because "she knew about love--how to make it and how to mend it." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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