Anna’s Secret: The Winter in Anna (review)

The Winter in Anna (NetGalley)
Reed Karaim
W.W.Norton & Company
release date: Jan. 17, 2017

… she carried her damage like a faint shadow across even the brightest day … This beautiful woman. This friend.

We all of us have a secret, I’m sure. That one secret that hovers like a dark shadow, dimming ever-so-slightly even our brightest moments. the winter in annaDay after day it trails in our wake, sometimes even touching our dreams as we sleep. Even in those moments when we are most fully alive, most deeply in love, most wildly creative … there it is, seeping in at the edges of our happiness.

I have one. And so did Anna.

Eric leaves college one semester short of graduation, taking a job as sports editor for the The Shannon Sentinel, a small town weekly in North Dakota. “Editor” is probably a stretch–his job is to cover high school sports, which he does with aplomb. And “taking a job” is really just another way to say that Eric was on the run. From a girl. From a life of tedium. From boredom. The staff is small: the publishers Art and Louise Shoemaker (who have a secret of their own, by the way), the front-desk clerk Edith, Eric, and the copywriter, Anna. Eric isn’t on the job more that a few weeks when he’s promoted to editor. It’s then he and Anna begin working together more closely–and it’s then he becomes friends with the beautiful single mother who changed him profoundly.

Eric comes to love the wide Dakota country and the open-hearted people who live there and he tells their story well. Anna and Eric are a team. They cover stories together, put the paper to bed each week. He teaches her to develop photographs.  And there’s pool at the bar on occasion, a carnival in town, the rare party with friends. Drives in to work together when her unreliable car is broken down. Their lives are worlds apart–in age, education, family–yet they become good friends who depend on each other. This is no love story. Or is it?

Eric notices her wrists first. Usually covered by long sleeves, no matter the weather, he sees she’s hiding two white scars encircling her wrists. As their friendship deepens, he learns bits of her story. The unplanned pregnancy. The teenage marriage. The drinking. Abuse. Those are the easy parts of the story to tell. The harder part to tell is her secret, and she saves that when she knows Eric is leaving.

The story opens with news of Anna’s death years later, so there’s no spoiler here. That she kills herself is also no surprise, once we know the pain with which she lived. Indeed, even Eric doesn’t know what to believe about her death. “No one had held the bright possibility of existing fully in each day more than she had. No one had seemed to defy the idea that our future is written in our past more than Anna … so I’ve decided to write this … and you tell me if I have written a tragedy.”

Writer Reed Karaim’s novel–of what holds us captive, of those secrets that bind our past and our present, of reinventing ourselves–is both a mournful and beautiful elegy Anna and the life she lived as best she could.

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