Last Winter: About the Book
“Last Winter” is the story of a child who might not survive the heartbreak of her father’s death and a mother who struggles to both parent and manage her grief in the grips of a Bipolar crisis*.
Fiona and Gus’s marriage has veered off course. Fiona’s mental health is shaky at best, and is now further strained under the weight of a transgression that she would like to both forget and repeat. Gus, a pro snowboarder turned backcountry guide, is exhausted by Fiona’s mood swings and her ambivalence about their relationship, but mostly by the impact of her erratic behaviour on their eight-year-old daughter, Ruby. Ruby loves them both, but has a much closer relationship with her father, and has stopped talking in the face of the tensions between her parents.
In the midst of this marital crisis, Gus takes Ruby’s class on an overnight trip into the wilderness, where Ruby is one of only two children to survive the avalanche that kills the others, including her beloved father. While Fiona’s mental health is unravelled further by grief, Ruby is flattened by Gus’s loss. After the search ends with no sign of her father, Ruby is determined to find him herself, using the survival skills he taught her and believing that he must still be alive. Her trek back into the snow sets off events that stretches her own resourcefulness and her mother’s fragile coping skills to the breaking point.
Atmospheric and deftly told with an economy of words and a finely tuned gaze on the small moments that build up to an inexorable and shocking end, Last Winter is a contemporary drama that will grip readers both for the story and for the vibrant portrayal of the complexities of family life.
“Last Winter” by Carrie Mac has been compared to other books, but I found Mac’s writing and storytelling abilities to be incomparable. In Mac’s own words:
“This story is for the reader who wants to meet a smart, complicated woman where she is at — which is in the middle of a very messy Bipolar crisis—, and watch her story unravel from there, in the midst of a tragedy that devastates the town and in a landscape that both captivates and threatens…If you are mindful of content warnings—assume “Last Winter” has absolutely all of them and please move along to read something better suited to you right now.”
If you do move along though, you will be missing out on a masterful story. “Last Winter” was a #1 best seller, and it is easy to see why. This is a skillfully written book sharing the before, during and aftermath of a tragic avalanche. It is told from Ruby and Fiona’s points of view. While you will be amazed by Ruby’s observations and your heart will break for her, Fiona is a character that you will simultaneously feel compassion for and dislike.
Mac writes both characters equally well. She has an understanding of mental illness, living with Bipolar 1, and brings it into the story. It is hard to stomach Ruby’s neglect, by both of her parents, acting as a caregiver to her mother even though she is just 8 years old herself. As a reader, you want Fiona to become redeemable, and the challenge is that she isn’t. That is true to life – not all people are redeemable, and not all stories have a happy ending, “Last Winter” included, but that doesn’t mean that it is not worth reading.
Again, the author admits that this book is not for everyone. This book is a list of trigger warnings for some – containing mental illness, suicide attempts, child neglect and death, alcoholism, bereavement to name just a few, but if you can get past the triggers, the book is excellent and may even be cathartic for some readers.