cover image The Weight of Winter

The Weight of Winter

Cathie Pelletier. Viking Books, $22.95 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-670-84090-8

Readers familiar with Pelletier's novels ( Once upon a Time on the Banks ) will rejoice to find themselves back in Mattagash, Maine, where ``your life was like an old winter coat you were forced to wear until it wore out.'' This masterful work casts a wide net in its portrayal of present-day descendants of Mattagash's early settlers--Crafts, Fennelsons, McKinnons, Giffords--who, like their forebears, all know one another, watch one another, feud with one another. As snow isolates the town from autumn to spring, some people long to escape while others accept the frozen landscape as a fact of life, and the geography of Mattagash becomes as important as any character. The novel opens with the season's first snowfall and ends, pointedly, at Thanksgiving. During this brief interval, single, middle-aged Amy Joy Lawler ponders institutionalizing her mother; the town gossips spread word that Amy Joy is pregnant; abusive Pike Gifford visits tragedy on those he loves best; Bennett Craft's relatives suffer over his suicide. Binding these and other stories are the poetically charged memories of 107-year-old Mathilda Fennelson, the oldest living Mattagasher. Pelletier's ear for dialogue is exceptional, and her characters' interior monologues, what they think but don't say, are subversive, humorous and heartbreaking. (Nov.)