The Winter House by Joan MacCracken

Maine Book & Author!

Book Review: People I know “from away” often-times have a puzzled look on their face when I tell them how much I love living in Maine in the winter. Naturally, there are the visions of sailboats meandering around harbors, peaceful walks around Acadia National Park, and quaint lunches at seafood cafes – in the summertime… But the conversation inevitably finds its way to, “but… those long winters…!” and it appears as though I have possibly grown a second head when I tell them, “I love winter-time in Maine -it is literally my favorite season!” I enjoy the peace and quiet at the end of tourist season, appreciate the starkness of nature, and I love skiing so… snow…

When I found The Winter House at Sherman’s Maine Coast Bookshop in Damariscotta, and read the book cover, I thought that I had stumbled across a fairy tale! The story line not only captured me, but it also sounded like a reasonable idea. Four older, single women who decide to try living together for the winter season, in a coastal town. The idea began with the practical need to help reduce the cost of heating their houses and alleviate winter-time loneliness (with a plan to return to their own homes in Spring). I had to read this book to see how such a plan could conceivably play out.

Bonus is that the author is a Maine resident who happens to live in an adorable Maine village with which I am familiar. A little, back-of-the-book comment sealed the deal for me. It read: WARNING: NOT FOR MEN (Unless you want to know what women really talk about). A sense of humor goes a long way with me!

The story follows Elizabeth, Marty, Janet, and Catherine. All single people who have diverse enough backgrounds, personalities, and stories to create interesting, complex, and multi-dimensional characters. I was able to identify with each of them for several reasons – most notably their senses of independence and desire to live full lives, despite their relationship status and living in a small community. The group formed through individual friendships, but not as an already-formed friendship group – this created absorbing conversations throughout the book. The characters unfolding as deeply complex as they each began to learn about one another’s life experiences and various backgrounds.

“…, I figure maybe three other women in this town might consider this idea. I thought of you because, first, I figured we could have some fun cooking together, and, second, we could argue about politics… just kidding”

There are relatable story lines about aging-at-home, grief and loss, childhood secrets, and complex family relationships. Each character thinks deeply about their individual circumstances – I personally found it inspiring to read about intelligent and compelling women who each continue to seek meaning in their lives after so much change had occurred for them – not all change they asked for…

By Spring, you will have accompanied these women as they discover new relationships with each other, their families, and their community. You will hopefully take away, as I have, the importance of friendship, supporting and encouraging each other – in a way we are individually able to – and equally important, living a life that brings a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment – whatever that means to each of us.

Community plays a leading role in living successfully in Maine for all four seasons. As an introvert, finding a balance between my precious solitude and engaging in my community is a delicate balance. These four women demonstrate how they each participate in their community, while honoring their personal needs. I loved this book and will keep it on my shelf as I age and contemplate how I am going to construct my own life to live a contented existence here in this beautiful and commanding state (independently, in my own home and community) for as long as possible.