Harper, 2013, 276 pages
On a snowy Christmas morning, Holly Judge awakens with the fragments of a nightmare floating on the edge of her consciousness. Something followed them from Russia. Thirteen years ago, she and her husband Eric adopted baby Tatty, their pretty, black-haired Rapunzel, from the Pokrovka Orphanage #2. Now, at 15, Tatiana is more beautiful than ever - and disturbingly erratic.
As a blizzard rages outside, Holly and Tatiana are alone. With each passing hour, Tatiana's mood darkens, and her behavior becomes increasingly frightening... until Holly finds she no longer recognizes her daughter.
You probably don't want to read this book if you are Russian, adopted, or an adoptive parent.
This book would have made a suspenseful short story. Instead, Laura Kasischke apparently couldn't decide whether she was writing a psychological family drama or a thriller, and split the difference. What we wind up with is a novel that fills an inordinate amount of space between the moments of suspense with the tedious inner monologue of a self-absorbed upper middle class American woman going on and on about her tragic childhood, her preemptive battle with cancer that left her unable to have children, and her decision (with her husband) to adopt.
It's not clear whether the author means for us to sympathize with Holly Judge or not, but her name is suggestive — we are certainly invited to judge her. I was just sick of her voice by the end of the book, but the steadily increasing tension in the environment existing outside her head kept me reading.
Eric and Holly adopted Tatiana from a Siberian orphanage as a baby. Now, Tatiana is a beautiful fifteen-year-old girl with the attitude of an ungrateful American teenager, and she's getting on Holly's last nerve as they are trapped together in the house on a snowy Christmas day. Eric went to the airport to pick up his parents, but the blizzard keeps him and their other houseguests away.
As the day goes on, Tatiana becomes increasingly obnoxious, erratic, and then downright disturbing.
Something isn't right, and Holly knows it, but the author keeps the big reveal from us for an interminably long time, filling every chapter with a few more scenes of Tatiana acting inexplicably weird and then Holly dwelling on her past in flashbacks.
It did keep me guessing — I was not sure until the very end just what was going on, or whether the answer would turn out to be something supernatural. The truth, when it finally comes, will probably not be a shocker, but it is appropriate for the suspense-based elements of the story. It just should have been delivered much sooner.
Verdict: Mind of Winter reads like women's fiction trying to put on a Halloween mask. Suspense is palpable, but trodden down by the angsty whine of the main character's inner monologue. I don't regret reading it, but I wouldn't trust this author again without some good reviews.
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