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Issue 36 - The distinct smell of winter

Whisky Magazine Issue 36
December 2003

 

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The distinct smell of winter

Jefferson Chase writes about The Winter Father by Andre Dubus Snr.

Watching the leaves fall off the trees in Central Europe this autumn, I was reminded that one of the consolations of winter is that
it provides a perfect excuse to stay inside with a good drink and a good book.

And I was reminded, too, of a short story by Andre Dubus Snr called The Winter Father, which captures the austerity of frost-bitten New England as well as anything this side of The Scarlet Letter.

Dubus, who died in 1999, was a hulking Hemingway-like figure, who lost one leg and the use of the other in 1968, and the title figure of this story, Peter Jackmann, is also described as the survivor of an accident that killed others.

But The Winter Father isn't about physical scars. It's about an uncertain and increasingly dissipate father's attempts to establish a new relationship with his children after a painful divorce.

It's not an easy task. Lonely nights drinking bourbon are interrupted by awkward weekend visits with his son and daughter, and feelings of
guilt after he has returned them to their mother.

Next morning when he got into his car, the inside of the windshield was iced. He used a small plastic scraper from his glove compartment. As he scraped the middle and right side, he realized the grey ice curling and falling from the glass was the frozen breath of his children.

The prose is as clear and hard as a frozen lake in Dubus' native Merrimack Valley. Fans of the florid and the sentimental are best advised to give this story a miss.

Desperate to be acc...

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