The Ocean In Winter
by Elizabeth de Veer
Published July 2021 by Blackstone Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review
The lives of the three Emery sisters were changed forever when Alex, eleven at the time, found their mother drowned in the bathtub of their home. After their mother’s suicide, the girls’ father shut down emotionally, leaving Alex responsible for caring for Colleen, then eight, and little Riley, just four. Now the girls are grown and navigating different directions. Alex, a nurse, has been traveling in India and grieving her struggle to have a child; Colleen is the devoted mother of preteens in denial that her marriage is ending; and Riley has been leading what her sisters imagine to be the dream life of a successful model in New York City. Decades may have passed, but the unresolved trauma of their mother’s death still looms over them creating distance between the sisters.
Then on a March night, a storm rages near the coast of northeastern Massachusetts. Alex sits alone in an old farmhouse she inherited from a stranger. The lights are out because of the storm; then, an unexpected knock at the door. When Alex opens it, her beautiful younger sister stands before her. Riley has long been estranged from their family, prompting Colleen to hire the private investigator from whom they’d been awaiting news. Comforted by her unexpected presence, Alex holds back her nagging questions: How had Riley found her? Wouldn’t the dirt roads have been impassable in the storm? Why did Riley insist on disappearing back into the night?
After her mysterious visitation, Alex and Colleen are determined to reconcile with Riley and to face their painful past, but the closer they come to finding their missing sister, the more they fear they’ll only be left with Riley’s secrets. An unforgettable story about grief, love, and what it means to be haunted, The Ocean in Winter marks the debut of a remarkable new voice in fiction.
Twenty-five years after their mother committed suicide, Alex, Colleen, and Riley continue to struggle with the after effects of the event that changed their lives. Their father has become a recluse and something of a hoarder, requiring his girls to not only care for themselves but for him as well.
Alex, who lives with the memory of finding her mother and seeing her dead, never marries but goes into a career where she continues to care for people. That is until she gets some news that rocks her world just as an opportunity to travel to India gives her the chance to finally do something entirely for herself.
Colleen has been living the perfect life - great marriage, perfect house, two kids that she devotes her entire being to - until suddenly things aren't so perfect. Her husband has moved out, and fire leave Colleen and her children homeless, and she finds out her husband has found another woman. And her baby sister, Riley, has been out of touch for months. Desperate to try to pull her family back together, Colleen hires a private investigator to find Riley; but when he does, the news isn't good.
Riley, who has no recollection of her mother, has become a famous model. But that lifestyle and her painful history have cause Riley to turn to drugs. A stint in rehab worked for a while but slowly Riley is unraveling again and this time there is no safety net.
There's a lot going on here and de Veer touches on a lot of tough subjects - suicide, mental health, addiction, abuse, family dynamics, infertility, marriage. It felt like a bit more than was needed to make the book compelling and a supernatural elements that de Veer introduced didn't really work for me. But, overall, with the alternating first person narratives of the three sisters, this was a book that pulled me through it, wanting to know what secrets were still hidden and hoping that each of the sisters could find the peace they needed. De Veer does a terrific job of helping the reader to feel the cold and grey of the winter that mirrors what is happening in the sisters' lives. This is de Veer's debut novel; I'm looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.
About Elizabeth de Veer:
Elizabeth de Veer has a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and has been admitted to writing residencies at the Jentel Artist Residency, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is a member of several writing groups, including Grub Street Writers’ Collective of Boston, the Newburyport Writers’ Group, Sisters in Crime New England, and the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. She lives in a small town in Northeast Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and labradoodle.