About a year after I read Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, I’ve finally gotten around to picking up the sequel, A Winter Haunting. “Sequel” is a sort of interesting term for it, since I’m not sure you even need to have read Summer of Night to appreciate this psychological ghost story.
A Winter Haunting is a completely different kind of book from its predecessor. While the first book was a lengthy, raucous tale of boyhood, monsters under the bed, creatures at the school, and disbelieving adults, the second book is the quiet, internal story of a haunted man passing middle age who is trying to understand the trajectory of his own life.
Dale Stewart, the protagonist from the first book, takes center stage again here—but it is the narrator who provides most of the insight into his thoughts, his attempted suicide, his possible psychosis, and his failed love life. The narrator in question is Duane, the boy genius who dies in the first book. Here he is played as an omniscient abstraction who is able to see Dale’s life better than Dale himself.
Having decided to spend his sabbatical back in Elm Haven, the town where he grew up, Dale heads to Illinois for the winter. What’s more, he has decided to stay in the old farmhouse where Duane lived and died, in order to grieve his old friend and to provide inspiration for the novel he is writing about that summer of 1960.
That’s when the ghosts start popping up. Simmons masterfully delivers the creepiness, and he does it in a way that leaves you wondering what’s real, what’s in Dale’s head, and what’s supernatural. This, along with his beautiful prose and brilliant use of a dead narrator, provides the story an eerie, unsettling atmosphere that is perfect for a chilly winter at an abandoned farmhouse.
A much simpler, straightforward narrative than the sometimes meandering and chaotic first novel, this one still carries many layers of complexity in its themes and characters, revealing painful truths about life, aging, potential, and human connection.
It’s also peppered with classic literary references like Henry James and Beowulf, Old English, Egyptian worship, philosophy, and proof that our young dead narrator knows more about writing than even seasoned writers and academics.
Storyline: 9 out of 10 ghosts from the past
Characters: 9 out of 10 ghosts from the past
Originality: 8 out of 10 ghosts from the past
Writing Style: 10 out of 10 ghosts from the past
Scare Factor: 7 out of 10 ghosts from the past
Overall: 8 out of 10 ghosts from the past