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'Wintering' Tells a Story of Family & Small Town Secrets

Courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf.

Family, survival and small town values are all on display in Peter Geye’s latest novel, Wintering.

The book continues the story of the Eides, a family first introduced in Geye's earlier novel, The Lighthouse Road. One of the central characters, Harry Eide, is first seen as a baby in Lighthouse, but by Wintering, he has become an old man. Harry is swept back into the wilderness, seemingly by his own dementia, and we learn about another trip he took with his son, Gus.

A complex web of salacious relationships and small town secrets unfolds through the narration of Harry's former lover, Berit. Interestingly, the character wasn't part of the initial conception of the book but became a integral part of the story. 

"As soon as I sort of conjured Berit... and pictured her and sort of imagined just superficially the life that she would have had in this town it was just like, all sorts of ideas started popping in my head. And what had been a real challenge, finding the voice for this novel, it was just simple," says Geye. 

Credit Eugene Kim / Flickr
Saganaga Lake, located in the Boundary Waters.

The story takes place in a small town near the Boundary Waters, part of the Superior National Forest on the border of the U.S. and Canada. The area is more than a million acres of wilderness, with countless interconnected lakes and rivers dividing up the vast landscape. 

"There's no motorized vehicles, there's no resources of any sort. You go in with what you can carry, you carry it all out," says Geye. "You can be there for days at a time without seeing another living person and there's nothing there except for you and your wits, and what you brought with you." 

This setting reflects the needs of the characters: a place that's easy to disappear into without a trace. But the Boundary Waters play more than just a passive role in the novel. 

"This particular story couldn't happen anywhere else. I mean the landscape and the setting is, in my mind at least, as much a part of the story as any of the characters. Maybe it is the main character," he says. 

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as producer for Lake Effect. Most recently, she was a director and producer for The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm, Chicago Public Radio.