Earlier this year, I had the privilege of hearing Wayne Courtois read from this manuscript at Saints and Sinners, the grand queer literary conference held every year in New Orleans. The piece he read was about his first date with his partner, Ralph Seligman. By the time he was finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. That’s what made me anticipate this book so much, and I’m thrilled to report that A Report from Winter does not disappoint.
The book concerns Wayne returning to his childhood home in Maine after a ten-year absence to attend a bedside vigil for his mother Jenny, who is dying of cancer. His emotionally bereft gay brother, Bruce and his quietly complaining Aunt Louise are of little solace, and he is forced to call Ralph, who has never met Wayne’s family – or had to endure a Maine winter – to his side to preserve his sanity. He weaves this story with memories of another childhood winter, showing that time rarely changes how family members relate to each other
Courtois has an incredible eye for detail and an impeccable intuition about which detail is the most telling. He can break your heart and do so in a way that also brings a smile to your face. His humor is simple and true, unlike the over-rehearsed stand-up comedy you get with Augusten Burroughs or David Sedaris, and the contrast between his loving relationship with Ralph and the distance of his family is both personal and universal at the same time.
And the writing is just so damn good. Courtois’ descriptions of the icy Maine winter will have you shivering in the middle of summer, and you can smell the sharp tang of sea air in the scenes set by the beach. If you’ve ever had the experience of watching a loved one – or even a family member – die, this book will once again plug you into that helpless monotony with its inevitable end.
Powerful and gripping, A Report from Winter is as true and as true to life as life gets.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler