In the Deep Midwinter

Robert Clark, Author
Robert Clark, Author Picador USA $23 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-15149-2
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-312-18114-7
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In this chivalric sequel to her medieval saga Devoted, Borchardt returns to ninth-century France and the city of Chantalon, where the bishop, Owen, and his wife, Elin, confront Viking raids and treachery as they try to bring peace to their people. Hoping to fortify his meager troops, Owen, with the aid of the mysterious forest people, journeys to his father's stronghold to entreat his aid. Instead, he is captured by a hedonistic community of Bretons who offer him safety and peace for his people if he agrees to be their king--and death if he does not. As Owen undertakes this hero's journey, Elin is left to defend Chantalon against treason and a deceptive inciter sent by the Viking lord Hakon. Like her sister, Anne Rice (who contributes an introduction to this novel, as she did to Devoted), Borchardt delights in wordiness and overwrought prose, especially in her graphic depictions of sex (in language way over the purple top) and war (complete with disembowelings, beheadings, etc.). Fans of Marion Zimmer Bradley and other purveyors of historic fantasy and adventure will enjoy the richly rendered historic detail with which Borchardt embellishes her baroque portrait of a turbulent, violent time. (Jan.) In November 1949, St. Paul lawyer Richard MacEwan travels by train to North Dakota where he will claim the body of his brother James, who was killed, apparently in a hunting accident. Six months later, in April 1950, near the end of this absorbing narrative, Richard learns from James's friend Henry Finch something closer to the truth about his brother's death. The intervening pages of this first novel from Clark (biographer of James Beard in The Solace of Food) develop the story of the Midwestern Mac-Ewan family as though it were a photograph of extraordinary detail in the midwinter tints of gray and blue. Richard's daughter, Anna, divorced and the mother of a son, begins a relationship with a married man, Charles Norden, that leads to pregnancy. Richard's wife, Sarah, disapproves, although Charles claims to be close to a divorce. The theme of the truth about James's death is intertwined, from beginning to end, with Anna's dilemma and ongoing reflections on Christian philosophy. Sober in tone, moral in content, Clark's vision, especially in matters of adultery, is deeply considered and humane. His characters are fundamentally decent and substantial people who, while believing in moral absolutes, are drawn away by the lure of that other human absolute--love. Clark uses a tight structure to think through a moral issue in mature prose. Still, the achievement here is his depiction of the more elemental process of how people come to consciousness amidst the accrual of a lifetime's overlays of knowledge and meaning. Intelligent and perceptive, this first novel combines meticulous craftsmanship with a serious moral imagination. 50,000 first printing; $75,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Jan.)
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