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Jack Zaleski, Published December 29 2012

Zaleski: Three books for the long, cold winter

It’s the start of that long stretch of the northern Plains winter that, as I age, seems longer every year. It’s the right time to curl up with a good book or two or three. Here are three I recommend:

“Disappearances” by Howard Frank Mosher, Viking Press, 1977.

Mosher tells a rollicking tale from the perspective of a grown son, the novel’s narrator, who experienced extraordinary adventures with his father while growing up in the 1930s in the wild lands and lakes that straddle the Vermont-Quebec border. From whiskey running to a gaggle of very strange family members, hired hands and others, the story is rich with love, loyalty, criminality, sacrifice, hardship and family dynamics that would qualify as child abuse and dysfunction in today’s unforgiving and quick-to-judge social climate.

But most of all, it’s a father-son story that will resonate with sons whose fathers had larger-than-life personalities. And it’s a saga of fascinating and impossible characters that, one by one, literally disappear, hence the novel’s name.

“The Loop” by Nicholas Sparks, Delacorte Press, 1998.

The author of “The Horse Whisperer” takes the reader to a fictional Montana town, Hope, where residents are dealing with the restoration of wolves into the surrounding mountain habitat. The war between ranchers who hate wolves and wildlife personnel who have a job to do is brought to life in flawed characters who find themselves embroiled in a multifaceted conflict. Sparks even lets the reader see through the eyes of the wolf.

The story’s context is the struggle between the Old West and the New West, and how change either destroys or uplifts the central characters – and the wolves.

And “the loop?” It’s a perfect metaphor, and it’s an awful real thing. Both are central to the novel’s theme. It’s a grand Western tale.

“A Reliable Wife” by Robert Goolrick, Algonquin Books, 2009.

If it’s a glimpse into the blackest recesses of the human soul, this disturbing retelling of the old mail-order bride story is for you. It opens as a wealthy, reclusive man meets the woman he’s “ordered” when she steps onto the train platform in a Wisconsin snowstorm. She is not who he expects. The story unwinds from there into a sometimes violent saga of lies, murderous intent, disturbing family secrets, betrayal, redepmtion and forgiveness.

Gothic in tone, the writing is marvelous. Suspenseful, tense and occasionally erotic and wicked, the book sucks the reader into a dark miasma from which there seems no exit. Not for the faint of heart or for readers whose stomachs go easy to queasy.

There you go: three good reads. Enjoy. It’s a long winter.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.