cover image WINSLOW IN LOVE


Kevin Canty, . . Doubleday/Talese, $23.95 (254pp) ISBN 978-0-385-51366-1

For Richard Winslow, a depressed, alcoholic poet suffering from writer's block and the waning tolerance of his wife, June Leaf, a semester-long visiting poet gig at a Montana college promises, if nothing else, $25,000 in the bank. June drops him off in the beautiful, frozen hell that's Athens, Mont., in January; shortly thereafter, she leaves him for good. But in his first poetry class, Winslow meets Erika Jones, a talented, pierced and tattooed 20-year-old poet who is slowly starving and drinking herself to death. Though more than two decades separate them, Erika and Winslow begin to cautiously connect: student-teacher conferences over cups of Johnny Walker lead to verbal and physical sparring matches as each of them mistrustfully tries to care for the other. Their courtship culminates in a rambling road trip across America, ending in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where it finally becomes clear to them that much more than friendship is at stake. Grim but moving evocations of the dark bars in "poisoned town[s]" preserve a rainy-day-despondency, though Canty (Nine Below Zero , etc.) offers glimmers of light as Richard and Erika lean toward life and intimacy. Though the final chapters leave readers suspended between a foreshadowed but deeply saddening death and an optimistic if sudden conclusion, Canty's novel is a powerful story of the way that hope can transform even the bleakest of lives. Agent, Denise Shannon . (Feb.)