Audio: Ways to Hide in Winter by Sarah St. Vincent, 2018, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.
Short: 25-year-old single woman living in rural Pennsylvania meets an undocumented alien and battles ennui, pill popping, and her self-image.
I am split on this novel. I enjoyed the book enough but not much happens. I don't even remember the ending all that well. Maybe if I looked up some book club discussion questions I'd be clued in to some important plot points or character development that I missed. Or not. Generally not my cup of tea. But, I kept involved in the story and wanted to know what was going to happen.
Kathleen was horribly injured in a car wreck that killed her husband about three years ago and is now hooked on pain pills. She works for low wages at a general store off the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. She lives with her ill grandmother, is distant from her hard drinking parents, her brother has been in the Army and communicates rarely. She has one friend from high school and college. That friend has a young son and a deployed soldier husband and lives with family. Basically, Kathleen is lonely, her ill grandmother requires care, ashamed of her lingering scars and dragging leg, and mentally adrift.
One day a strange guy shows up at the store asking about the hiker's hostel across the street.. Winter is coming and the hikers are gone but Kathleen opens the hostel for the man and gets him a room. The keeps sticking around town. He has no luggage, little cash, and a Russian-like accent. Kathleen gets to be friends with the guy.
Internal things happen. We spend all our time inside Kathleen's head and she slowly reveals the cause of her injuries and limp. Why she avoids her former in-laws. What her marriage was like. Why she is estranged from her parents. So on. So forth.
Along the way there is talk about the former World War Two era POW camp outside town. Local history of an Underground Railroad way station. A painted sign that marks the location of Depression era children who were left to die. Kathleen has her pill addiction and the meds give her a break from life. Wait a minute. I sense a theme of despair and abandonment. A feeling that is incorporated into most everything Kathleen does.
Anyhoo. Kathleen comes to some realizations. Kathleen discovers she has been conned. Kathleen goes through with her plan to escape her present and past by leaving town.
St. Vincent gives a slow reveal of the cause of Kathleen's injuries and her brutal and dead husband. You get to know Kathleen more and more as the story goes and the slow betrayal of her husband and his increasing violence has more impact.
Kathleen knows she is hiding out. But, after hooking up with the husband when she was just 15-or-so she had not had much opportunity in life. She went to college but was still tied back to the town where he continued to live and work as a mason. His behavior and mental state deteriorated and she ended up a captive in their house. Her attempts to escape included a trip to the family pastor who counseled her to accept her husband's frailties and work on the marriage. The pastor then called the husband who took her home and locked her in the garage for three days without food or water.