Winter in the Blood

James Welch

In some ways a bleak novella, Welch’s writing is so elegant that I found this hard to put down, even when the sadness felt very deep. Since it’s a largely interior story from the perspective of a self-destructive guy, it rambles and dips into the past in ways that only heighten a sense of being lost. It takes a while to find out what factors from the past are actually playing out in the wayward adventures of his present. The most profound revelation near the end is largely unexpected and speaks to the power of stories, and yet how easily they can be lost.

Louis Erdrich wrote the introduction to this edition, starting out by saying that it should have won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1974, a year when no award was given. She also explains the book began as a poem about the landscape of the Montana Great Plains, which likely accounts for its firm sense of place and atmosphere. I appreciated how she described the narrator’s lack of emotional reaction as less about alienation and more about a sense of modesty in despair. “To refuse to feel is to refuse to be a victim, it is true. But in the end, all you really own is your indifference.”