It would be hard to imagine two more unlikely people to end up being in love with each other than Winslow and Erika, but they are, indeed, in some kind of love in Kevin Canty's Winslow in Love. Winslow is a poet whose life isn't working: his wife, June Leaf, is floating away from him; he hasn't written anything worthwhile for more than a year; he drinks and smokes too much; is fat and out of shape; depressed, morose--basically, a mess. Then, like a deus ex machina, deliverance of a sort appears. Winslow is offered a position teaching creative writing for a semester at a Montana University. (Canty teaches creative writing at the University of Montana.) Winslow is broke, stuck, and doesn't have a better idea, so he accepts the offer.
He and June drive to Montana together, but she leaves almost immediately, never to be heard from again. Winslow meets his students, all poet wannabes, and zeroes in on a pin-thin, tattooed girl half his age named Erika. She is bright, confrontational, and damaged. She drops into his office for Johnny Walker in a paper cup and Winslow quickly realizes that she is at least as troubled as he is. One of the other faculty members tells him that they are all worried about her: she is clearly starving herself to death and an alcoholic in the bargain. A perfect companion for Winslow in his current dark night of the soul.
In the hands of some novelists this would be just another dysfunctional relationship based on booze. Kevin Canty makes it gut-wrenchingly real, like the best of the blues, which Winslow loves and Erika can't stand. During a semester break, they take off in Winslow's Lincoln Town Car, the last relic of a past life and go south. Canty is a master at showing us the landscape, exterior and interior. Whether he is rhapsodizing about fly fishing--and these are the best lines about that since A River Runs Through It--or describing a hangover, a regret, a lost opportunity, he brings the moment to life: its beauty, ridiculousness, and poignancy. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
For Richard Winslow, a depressed, alcoholic poet suffering from writer's block and the waning tolerance of his wife, June Leaf, a semester-long visiting poet gig at a Montana college promises, if nothing else, $25,000 in the bank. June drops him off in the beautiful, frozen hell that's Athens, Mont., in January; shortly thereafter, she leaves him for good. But in his first poetry class, Winslow meets Erika Jones, a talented, pierced and tattooed 20-year-old poet who is slowly starving and drinking herself to death. Though more than two decades separate them, Erika and Winslow begin to cautiously connect: student-teacher conferences over cups of Johnny Walker lead to verbal and physical sparring matches as each of them mistrustfully tries to care for the other. Their courtship culminates in a rambling road trip across America, ending in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where it finally becomes clear to them that much more than friendship is at stake. Grim but moving evocations of the dark bars in "poisoned town[s]" preserve a rainy-day-despondency, though Canty (Nine Below Zero, etc.) offers glimmers of light as Richard and Erika lean toward life and intimacy. Though the final chapters leave readers suspended between a foreshadowed but deeply saddening death and an optimistic if sudden conclusion, Canty's novel is a powerful story of the way that hope can transform even the bleakest of lives.
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