The Winter Family by Clifford Jackman
Pub. Date: April 14, 2015
Source: finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Doubleday!!)
Summary: Spanning the better part of three decades, The Winter Family traverses America’s harsh, untamed terrain, both serving and opposing the fierce advance of civilization. Among its twisted specimens, the Winter Family includes the psychopathic killer Quentin Ross, the mean and moronic Empire brothers, the impassive ex-slave Fred Johnson, and the dangerous child prodigy Lukas Shakespeare But at the malevolent center of this ultraviolent storm is their cold, hardened leader, Augustus Winter—a man with an almost pathological resistance to the rules of society and a preternatural gift for butchery.
From their service as political thugs in a brutal Chicago election to their work as bounty hunters in the deserts of Arizona, there’s a hypnotic logic to Winter’s grim borderland morality that plays out, time and again, in ruthless carnage.
Genre: Western, Historical Fiction, ‘Family’ Saga
Recommended for: those who have been craving Tarantino in book form
At the end of March I received a copy of The Winter Family and, though I had come across the cover while browsing netgalley and GoodReads, I really had no idea what this book was about. The Civil War, a band of murderous outlaws and psychopathic killers, a family saga. It had all the workings of a perfect Leah novel (as morbid as that sounds, sorry Mom!) and I couldn’t wait to dive in. Dive in I did and while The Winter Family wasn’t exactly the book I had been expecting, it was pretty fantastic – with a body count a mile long.
Detailing the lives of the Winter family from its conception just after Sherman’s March to the Sea to its bloody end three decades later, The Winter Family (whose members aren’t actually related, but soldiers who had saved each others’ lives and don’t necessarily like nor trust one another, but their fear of Augustus Winter keeps them together) is chock full of blood, guts, and destruction.
Augustus Winter was just a kid – granted, a mean and hardened kid (no thanks to his reverend papa who was quick to lash out with a whip) – when he went from man to legend. Winter is the type of person whose reputation precedes him: from his cold, soulless eyes to his almost-white hair, townsfolk country-wide know who he is the moment he rides into town (and if Augustus Winter should ever come to your town, death is sure to follow.)
There are a handful of early reviews comparing The Winter Family to Quentin Tarantino films and I have to echo them here. The Winter Family is almost comical with its death toll and the entire time I was reading I kept imagining Django Unchained. The hyper surrealism of the film kept pushing its way to the forefront of my mind and as the bodies piled up, I was less concerned with just who would be next, and more concerned with The Winter Family actually having any characters around for the ending. These men are mean and tough and lawlessness abounds within its pages. Even ‘civilized’ towns like Chicago are depicted like the seedy underbellies of society that they were – the Chicago arc is full of crooked politicians and gangsters and rigged elections and the Winter family is in the midst of it all, naturally with their pockets full afterward.
There’s a scene in the novel where Augustus has a makeover of sorts, coming out on the other side with a crisp all-white suit, cane, and curly hair. I giggled like crazy while reading and its moments like this that brought a bit of humanity to the story. It’s not all death and carnage, only like 99%. From then on Augustus became known as the Dandy Killer and while he secretly hated his new haircut, he kept it to show the world just how little he cares what they think. Once Augustus underwent this change I couldn’t help but head back to college and Symbolism Mode. It was in a Sociology class that we began discussing Savior Characters and I couldn’t help but think of this while reading about the all-white wardrobe…although if Augustus Winter is meant to portray a Jesus figure, Heaven help us all.
The Winter Family is a novel that, while I enjoyed it immensely as I was reading, I’m finding I’m loving it even more now that it’s over and I’ve let my thoughts sit for a day. This is a book that’s certainly bloody and gory, but it’s also – dare I say it? – fun. The characters in these pages are NOT nice and wholesome family men, but I loved the time I spent with them. If you don’t mind getting down and dirty (seriously, this book is nothing but grit and grime) do yourself a favor and spend the weekend with The Winter Family.
It is often observed that murderers do not look like murderers. No one said that of Augustus Winter.