As a reviewer, I try to solicit books that will be uplifting, even if only in some small way. I must confess that the last few pages of The Winters in Bloom were a bit positive, but only after a story that at the beginning left me somewhat confused. As this tale developed and author Lisa Tucker revealed more and more of her characters backgrounds and past life events, I began to wonder if any one of them was normal.
At the beginning of the story, young Michael plays in his own backyard. He plays alone because he has been brought up alone. His parents are afraid that other boys his age will make fun of him or bully him. Michael appears happy but his joy comes from the fact that he has rarely known happiness through mutual play or societal interaction with his peers.
Afraid that Michael might catch some vicious bacteria or germ that could bring on sickness, disease, or even early death, his parents have chosen to educate him at home in a room he refers to as his classroom. Michael’s parents are highly educated and could easily provide him with homebound education — they think. But it goes without saying that not everyone is a good teacher. Besides, Michael might suffer some kind of injury in school, or on his trek to and from the building.
While playing in his yard, Michael’s mother, who normally keeps a close eye on him through one of her kitchen windows lest he injure himself during self-play and need emergency medical assistance, notices that Michael is nowhere to be found. Within a very short period of time, police arrive and begin to question his parents. Their questions are odd. They pry into both parents’ backgrounds in a way that seems far to personal, when in fact, one would expect them to be hunting clues to missing Michael’s whereabouts.
For example, a detective asked Michael’s father, “Do you remember how old Michael was when he decided he wanted to be home schooled?”
“He didn’t decide that. We did. Because we’re his parents and—”
As Lisa Tucker develops The Winters in Bloom, she reveals her characters personalities by reverting back in time to unveil bit by bit why each person thinks the way he or she does up until the time of Michael’s disappearance. The lives of Michael’s parents are exposed to show why they, in turn, impress on young Michael the severely limited routine known as his daily life. During his mother’s childhood years, she and her sister were inseparable. But college brought heartbreak and distance similar to the one both girls have never erased when their own mother left them and never returned. Occasionally, she sends a greeting card.
Suspicions run rampant. No one feels Michael has really been kidnapped for a ransom of any kind, only that he was stolen by some disturbed or unloved family member who suffered heartbreak, disappointment, a lost child, or even a mental breakdown, who now seeks the love and company of a young child.
Throughout The Winters in Bloom, there is a deepening mystery about Michael’s father and his first wife. There is an unspoken hidden secret about her, that family members are hesitant to disclose although they allude to some horrible incident many times in the book. I found myself reading the book to find out exactly what had happened with little concern for missing Michael who appears to be with some loving, caring person who knows his family well.
Just how all these puzzle pieces come together I will leave to the reader of The Winters in Bloom. Needless to say, after a remarkably depressing story, the last few pages make some attempt to show that, just possibly, The Winters family could expect better times ahead. But a blossoming of this kind seems doubtful given what intimacies the reader knows about the people in the story.
If you are a reader who enjoys sad soap operas — troubled love affairs, infidelity, post partum depression, mental aberrations, unrequited love — this book is for you. It is often wordy with its dialogue between family members, jilted lovers, and troubled personalities who seem to discuss information not always relevant to the story. I found the book disappointing and will look forward to better efforts by Lisa Tucker in the future.