I have had the great privilege to be an Advanced Copy Reviewer for Winter Light by Martha Engber (published by Vine Leaves Press). I’m proud to say that I met Martha Engber at the beginning of my writing career and learned a lot from her about building characters and that big one – show don’t tell! Over the years, we’ve become firm friends, and it is with great delight that I can proclaim honestly that my writing coach and buddy is releasing a brilliant book in October (preorder click here)
Right from the start, we know that 15-year-old Mary Donahue has a tough life. Her mother died when Mary was a small child. Her father is a violent alcoholic, and only one of her three older brothers is on Mary’s team. Mary hangs out with the burnouts in her school, spending more time partying than on homework, but when Mary strikes up an unusual friendship with one of the Preppy girls in her class, Mary glimpses a better life… and wants it.
Martha Engber pulls no punches as she depicts the obstacles that Mary slams into as she tries to change her life. This story is stomach-clenchingly gritty but so beautifully written that it tempers the harsh reality the story portrays. Details are exquisitely observed, and Engber has a way of dropping you directly into the Chicago winter so you feel the bite of the cold as you read, for example with descriptions such as “…the wind a zipper catching your skin.”
Engber is a master of characterization. I fell in love with Mary right away, and the people in the story feel real and multidimensional. While Mary’s world and life experiences are (thankfully) not very familiar to me, I could totally relate to this story, could comprehend fully the concept of the knock-on effect of one event going awry and pulling everything else down with it. Well-paced story plotting, combined with an artful depiction of a time and a place – 1978 Chicago – makes this read a fully immersive experience. When you must (reluctantly) set the book down to re-enter your own day, your mind will continue to ponder Mary’s trials and tribulations.
I’ll avoid spoilers, of course, but one thing I would say is that Winter Light is a tightly written story that packs a punch. Nothing is mentioned that doesn’t have a part to play in the plot. It’s the kind of story with “aha!” moments that make you want to start at the beginning again as you read the final words. Readers, pay attention…
Engber has truly conjured up a living breathing person in the characters she sets out on the page – although this is no surprise to me. I’ve also read her non-fiction book, Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up: A Thorough Primer for the Writers of Fiction and Nonfiction and would recommend it to any writer. Engber has fully implemented her own advice in the writing of Winter Light. I’d also highly recommend taking her upcoming course on at the Savvy Writers Con 2020 – for more details click here.
Also do consider tuning into a reading and Q&A event on 17th September with Martha Engber and other women writers published by Vine Leaves Press.