The epigraph that opens The Winters in Bloom, by Lisa Tucker, fits the novel perfectly: T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets, arriving where you’ve begun to “know the place for the first time.” The novel is about so many things but mostly relationships between parents and children. It explores extremes of child-rearing—from smothering to abandonment—and the consequences.
Six-year-old Michael is much loved and too well cared for (yes, there is such a thing). The first time his parents let him play in the back yard by himself, he disappears. This felt contrived, especially since he got meningitis as a baby on the only major trip he took with his parents—every time they let their guard down, something dire happens. Nevertheless, Michael’s kidnapping sets him, his parents and everyone connected to them free.
David and Kyra have been damaged by parents and lovers. Kyra and her sister, Amy, were abandoned by their mother and ignored by their father. The sisters had only each other until Kyra betrayed Amy in the worst possible way. David had a child by his first wife, Courtney, and the child died. David moved out of their house the day the baby died and divorced Courtney. Yet one wonders whom he really blames. He’s determined never to let another child be harmed on his watch. Before Michael was born, David crawled the house on hands and knees seeking potential dangers. Anything that posed a remote potential of harm was eliminated—even going out to school. Kyra teaches him at home.
“He was the only child in a house full of doubt,” the novel opens. “The doubt list was always growing, towering above him like the giant boy at his old school, . . . whose name was Paul.” Paul “had never done anything to Michael, but his parents doubted that Michael could learn in such an environment . . .” (1). Michael is amazingly patient with his parents. In fact, he’s one of the most endearing children in contemporary fiction.
Kyra and David are too well matched—so thinks David’s mother, Sandra, who isn’t allowed to be too close to him or Kyra or Michael. For one thing, Sandra’s house isn’t a danger-free zone. Sandra also remained friends with Courtney.
Kyra vacuums Michael’s room every day because David thinks he’s allergic to mold spores and dust mites and wants to be “on the safe side.”
Part of Kyra knew that the safe side was a chimera, like the pot at the end of a rainbow, but she didn’t argue with her husband. She was afraid now, too, now that she understood just how fragile her family’s happiness was. . . . A great chasm still separated her from David. . . . They’d lost the inclination to do anything together other than work harder, ever harder, to protect their precious little son (105).
Through the various narrators we slowly learn why David and Kyra are so damaged they carry hovering to extremes, why their relationship is so fragile they stay on the safe side with each other as well and don’t share losses never grieved, injuries never forgiven. As they wait for word about their missing son, they gradually remember and release the past.
Although Michael misses his parents and fears doing—even eating—something that will worry them, he also finds wonderful moments, moments his parents wouldn’t allow to happen. Eventually he takes a giant step of self-determination and hopes for the best.
This novel is full of sensitive writing and well-drawn characters. Tucker creates a tension beyond what one expects from a kidnapping story. This is no crime novel. The suspense evolves from the struggle of hearts to free and heal themselves.