In the Midst of Winter is many things. It’s a later-in-life romance about two people in their sixties. It’s an unsparing glimpse into the plight of illegal immigrants in the US and the situations that drive them to such desperation in their home countries. And it’s a cross between a crime novel and a screwball comedy as the three main characters try to dispose of a dead body for which none of them is responsible, but which they can’t simply walk away from.
A winter storm in Brooklyn, New York, brings the reclusive college professor Richard together with his tenant, Chilean visiting lecturer Lucia. Though both Richard and Lucia have plenty of broken romances in the past and are now well set in their single ways, there’s an attraction between them. But it doesn’t come to fruition until a minor car accident brings Evelyn, a girl from Guatemala now working as a nanny to a wealthy and sinister New Yorker’s family, into their lives. Evelyn, her employer’s car, and the inconvenient contents of its trunk.
All three characters’ backstories unfold throughout the novel. Evelyn’s early life in Guatemala, Lucia’s Chilean past, and Richard’s long-ago marriage to a vivacious Brazilian woman, are all rife with tragedy. Through their unlikely adventures, they form a bond and begin to create new lives out of the ruins of old.
I liked all the elements of this story and found the glimpses into Lucia’s and Evelyn’s lives particularly compelling — Evelyn’s story of illegal immigration is of course especially relevant in the light of current conflicts over immigration in the US. However, I found the style of writing less polished than I expected from Allende. I haven’t read a novel by her in many years, and I was surprised, since she is a very highly-acclaimed author, to find some of the same things I’ve complained about in Ken Follett novels — reams of telling instead of showing to convey information, very little subtlety, dialogue that’s often weighty with exposition and lacking in nuance. She definitely has a great story to tell here, but I feel like if this work had come from a beginning author rather than one with the weight of Allende’s name and reputation attached, an editor might have suggested working with it a little more, so that readers could draw some of their own conclusions rather than having the author wave morals and meanings in our faces as baldly as she does in some of this novel’s scenes.