Tom Barbash surveys the New York City of The Dakota Winters through 23-year-old Anton’s eyes. We glimpse the country during the transitional moment of 1979, with Ted Kennedy’s bid for the Democratic nomination, the transit and sanitation strikes, the serial killers and the underground clubs. We also get an inside view of celebrity culture through Anton’s father, Buddy Winter, a late-night talk show host who recently snapped and walked off set during his monologue.
As the book opens, Anton has just returned home from the Peace Corps to heal from a case of malaria. Inadvertently joining his father’s attempt to re-enter the late-night game, Anton serves as Buddy’s “second brain” as he begins to prepare new material for an upcoming show. This role validates Anton professionally and troubles him personally, fueling a line of questions that will lead him to step into adulthood outside his father’s exuberant shadow.
Barbash at times leans too heavily on the specifics of his richly drawn New York setting, and ultimately, Anton’s story is eclipsed by references to the era’s celebrity culture. Anton operates behind the scenes of this culture, and because he exists neither within nor outside of it, he’s able to disappear at will. His moments of growth happen away from the city, such as when he takes a sailing trip with family friend John Lennon and tests his mettle during a wicked storm in the Gulf Stream. Even then, Anton’s sense of self takes second chair to his adoration of Lennon.
Throughout this colorful novel, questions loom of where Anton fits into the picture and how he can build a life apart from his father without rejecting the vibrant city he grew up in.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Tom Barbash for The Dakota Winters.