The Winter Girl
Matt Marinovich
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Buy *The Winter Girl* by Matt Marinovichonline

The Winter Girl
Matt Marinovich
224 pages
January 2016
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Reminiscent of Flynn’s Gone Girl and more recently Hawkins’ Girl on the Train, Marinovich’s psycho-sexual thriller rattles the cage of the flimsy, troubled marriage of Scott and Elise. They have recently moved into Elise’s ailing father’s house in Shinnecock Hills, an exclusive suburb halfway between Hampton Bays and Southampton. Scott, an ill-furnished photographer, and Elise, a pediatric speech therapist, struggle to rise above a life of broken dreams, disappointment, and the assumed sick fantasies of Victor, who as the novel opens is lying in hospital, his body riddled with cancer.

A strange, disparate couple who largely watch television to shun the pain of arguing, Scott and Elise mostly avoid talking about how long it is taking her father to die. Conversations come and go like “satellite transmissions,” discussions that center on Elise’s brother, Ryder, who is imprisoned in an Ohio County jail. Elise is understandably made uncomfortable by Scott's inability to let go of his obsession with Victor as well as his habitual drinking problem, which gives him an excuse to exercise his penchant for over-the-top melodrama. Elise loves Victor, despite Scott constantly hammering home that her father is an abusive hypocrite and a liar.

Propelled by Hitchcockian sensibilities, Marinovich’s interwoven themes of what and whom to believe and trust provide great context to the main story. Aware of Shinnecock’s distant lights shining through the scrub pine in the dark, deep night, the plot is built around the house next door which at first seems deserted. Peering through a set of old-fashioned binoculars, Scott sees right into the kitchen and into the upstairs bedrooms, where the lights are timed to go off at eleven pm just after casting a dim yellow reflection that seems to float through the trees.

Scott’s growing affair with the house gives the novel its sinister glow as well as giving Marinovich’s main character a purpose in spite of the restlessness that plagues him. There are other disturbing developments: a dark shape in the upstairs window that startles Scott, Victor’s abusive phone calls in the form of crude language left on his answering machine, and the identity of “the winter girl” who fumbles into the lives of Scott and Elise, determined to escape a tortured reality that has spiraled out of control.

Hanging onto the precipice of disaster, the couple trespass to their peril, wandering through the house, at first having brutal, rough sex in the front bedroom then freaking out after a terrible, bloody discovery. Scott can do little to counteract Elise’s threats: “If this gets ugly, I’m never going to forgive you.” Soon Scott is plagued by dreams--of “the winter girl” with her whitish lips and expressionless oval face, and of blackmailing Richard Swain, the man who at first was thought to own the house: “how craven it would be to pick up a phone and torture him now.”

From a girl called Carmelita to Victor, who feeds off his daughter’s misery as long as he’s alive, Scott is secretly pleased at Elise's rising hatred for her father. Dark secrets hide beneath the veneer of this seemingly respectable and wealthy family. There are more than enough twists and surprises as well as something greater here. As both Scott and Elise’s behavior grows more outrageous and intolerable, murder and blackmail become a reality in a scenario that undermines a frail marriage that built on selfishness and mistrust.

As stunted and mangled as the clusters of twisted pines that form the back of both houses, the author spins a dark tale of long-hidden secrets bared for all to see. At just over two hundred pages, Marinovich keeps his short, sharp novel on track, shepherding Shinnecock Hills’ bleak, wintry atmosphere and his first-person narrative into a series of gruesome revelations. Determined to impose one last sadistic gesture, Victor’s chain of terrible events unfolds, perhaps leading to a catastrophic reckoning for Scott and for Elise.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2016

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