Friday, October 02, 2009

A Report from Winter

By the time Wayne Courtois got to his mother’s deathbed, she was no longer able to communicate and he was never quite sure she even knew he was there. Courtois had not seen his mother, or the rest of his family, for ten years when he arrived in frozen Maine feeling somewhat guilty about his long absence. A Report from Winter explains why it happened that way.

Wayne Courtois and his older brother Bruce grew up in a family in which emotions and feelings were largely ignored. Certainly, they were never expressed out loud or through any kind of physical intimacy. The one exception to the rule was the anger into which his mother would erupt at seemingly random moments, anger that often culminated with her expressing her utter contempt for Wayne, her youngest son. Wayne’s mother paid so little attention to the feelings of her sons that he grew up believing that having an emotional life was a secret best kept to himself. Open communication was so taboo in the Courtois family, in fact, that Wayne still believes that his parents died without the knowledge that both their sons are gay.

Finding it difficult to cope with his emotions while waiting for his mother to die, and having no one in the family with whom he can share his feelings, Wayne reluctantly decides to ask his partner, Ralph, to join him from Kansas City. The close relationship of the two men, and the unquestioning support Ralph provides in this moment of crisis, underscore everything wrong with Wayne’s family and transforms A Report from Winter into a remarkable story.

Wayne Courtois is one of those writers whose prose is almost effortless to read. One is left with the impression that his memoir is a brutally honest one, a book that is unlikely to be appreciated by his brother or his Aunt Louise, the two family members who spent some time with him at his mother’s bedside. He has little good to say about either of them, and readers of A Report from Winter will certainly understand why that is after reading the flashbacks to an incident from Wayne’s childhood which alternate with chapters about his mother’s death.

When he arrived in Portland that day in 1998, Wayne was not sure what to expect. As he puts it, “With a start I realized that, while I hadn’t taken this journey to indulge in self-contemplation, I’d be doing plenty of it whether I liked it or not. My goal might eventually be to get the hell out of here with my short supply of self-esteem intact.” Thanks to Ralph, I think Wayne Courtois left Maine with his self-esteem stronger than ever.

Rated at: 4.0

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