What do you do when a family member has a secret that is so terrible it changes the way you’ve experienced reality for the first 30 or so years of your life? This is but one of the dilemmas facing the narrator of Megan Collins’ latest novel.
Since she was a child, Sylvie O’Leary’s life has been darkened by her sister’s murder. Persephone—who was aptly named—was strangled on the one night that Sylvie, then age 14, refused to leave their bedroom window cracked open so Persephone could sneak into the house after an assignation with Ben Emory, the son of their town’s mayor. Their mother, Annie, forbade Persephone to date, even though she was already 18. And Annie definitely didn’t want Persephone running around with Ben. Too proud to ring the front doorbell, Persephone ran back to Ben’s car and was never seen alive by her family again.
The catastrophe causes Sylvie to skip town as soon as she’s able, leaving her feckless mother—unhinged from alcoholism and grief and recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer—in the care of Annie’s sister, Jill. When Jill must attend to her own daughter, who is about to give birth, Sylvie is forced to return not only to dying, bitter Annie but also to the town that was the scene of her sister’s murder. The case has been cold for the better part of two decades, but Sylvie is determined to get to the bottom of it. What she finds is more devastating than she even imagined.
With its focus on the grim-dark aspects of the female experience, The Winter Sister calls to mind works like Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects or the film The Tale. This twisty-turny story reminds the reader of the fickle nature of the truth, and that impossible things happen more often than you think.