Home Arts Book Review ‘The Wisdom of Winter’ by Annie Seyler 

‘The Wisdom of Winter’ by Annie Seyler 

First, for those of us ready for spring, ‘Winter’ is not a season in Annie Seyler’s first novel, but an almost mythical horse that silently teaches a girl to forgive. 

“The Wisdom of Winter” (Atmosphere Press, Dec. 13, 2022), is the portrait of a family linked together even when estranged from one another. Seyler is masterful at revealing the tension in the house based on what is NOT said. We witness Beatrice, a creative and sensitive child, struggling to make sense of her world and her place in it. Central to the struggle is a complicated relationship with her mother, which Seyler develops with subtlety through the internal dialog of the growing girl who notices everything — but says little. We gain insight into the workings of her mind and the instability of memory: “I revel in the smell of pine trees, and after a long exhale, I allow the edges of my memory to resurface.” 

A central question for Beatrice is, “Where is my true home?” Raised in Vermont amid the freedom of muddy explorations in nature, she encounters the exotic in a move to San Francisco. She also confronts the ultimate opacity of other people and faces the pressure to fit into her new life. Although hiding her anxieties, she works to present an outward poise. She enters the adult world of work and of men, but still feels drawn to Vermont.

For her, nature still makes sense, contrasted with the complications of navigating the puzzling world of human relationships. I loved Seyler’s observations of the healing power of the natural world through the eyes of a growing child who longs for that solace as she observes the constantly shifting world around her. A family tragedy catapults Beatrice and her brother Oliver into a new world. Already homesick as she leaves Vermont, she searches for fellow Vermonters on her flight to California, being urged by her boyfriend to “find the flannel” and the UVM T-shirts. Many of us have done the same at the airport. For Beatrice, her true home is in the Green Mountains, in a cabin on a lake, exploring, playing, and dreaming. 

A quality of the spare prose of the novel is the economy of Seyler’s imagery. During a family crisis, silently witnessing her father’s distress, Beatrice observes: “A flock of geese pass overhead. Their joy is almost unbearable.” Another arresting metaphor is the confusion of her thoughts and feelings likened to the thumping of clothes in a washing machine. (I will remember this image every time the laundry is in the agitation cycle!) 

“The Wisdom of Winter” is not plot-driven, although there are dramatic scenes and actions. The dialog, at times, is clunky, but the beautifully written observations of people and places are worthy of savoring. Seyler’s subtle insights into the complexity of human relationships and the healing power of nature are what compelled me to read the novel twice. And the richness of Vermont’s landscape and culture, its psychological value for both those raised here and those who have chosen to live here, is a constant presence as we follow this young woman navigating her life’s journey while she seeks to understand her past.