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The Winter Family: A Novel by Clifford…

The Winter Family: A Novel

by Clifford Jackman

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605197,694 (3.62)2



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Warning to all readers, this book is about the many forms of violence that one man can inflict upon another. There are no good guys in the novel, only characters that aren't quite as bad as some of the others. All are still killers, thieves and liars at some level. But while parts of this book can only be defined as brutal and violent, it's not gratuitous, like some Clive Barker film. It's instrumental to the plot and exploration of the characters.

This book traces the history of The Winter Family, more appropriately called the Winter Gang, led by Augustus Winter, a cold-blooded psychopath. Brought together during the Civil War, and the Union Army’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas, their objective was simply to submit the populous to fear and chaos, something they did extremely well. So well, that they continued to practice their craft past the end of the war.

If my first two short paragraphs of this review don't intrigue you, there is no sense at all for you to attempt to read this book. While unmistakably violent, it is well written, and in my humble opinion, achieves the level of literature. This is the only book that I've given a 5 star rating in the past two years, maybe longer. Using my "Sadness Meter" to determine how badly I felt after reading the last sentence of the last page of the last chapter of this book, I can only say that I was crushed. I wanted this book, this story to go on . . . and on.
( )
  baggman | Feb 11, 2016 |
Ever notice in western or gangster movies that one shot from a pistol will remove an insignificant character from a gun fight, but that it takes ten or twelve shots (and maybe two to the head) to finish off one of the major characters? And that the most malefic character of all seems invulnerable to dozens of bullets flying about while those around him are dying like flies? Those same phenomena occur in The Winter Family, a curious western of practically pointless violence, featuring a gang of psychopathic killers having virtually no socially redeeming characteristics, who follow their eponymous leader, Augustus Winter, through perilous scrapes with the confederate army, Apaches on the war path, various law men, the Pinkertons, and the U.S. Cavalry.

You might infer from the introductory paragraph that I did not enjoy the book, but that would be wrong. The book is full of action, and the writing is pretty good. You even get to sympathize with, if not like, one or two of the members of the gang as they begin as bummers for General Sherman in his “March to the Sea.” (Bummers was the nickname given to Sherman’s soldiers who were assigned to requisition food from Southern homes on the route of the march, and who became notorious for looting and vandalism.) They then sign on as political enforcers in a Chicago mayoral election, serve as bounty hunters chasing Geronimo, and meet their (not especially tragic) ends trying to help one of their own escape from prison.

If Quentin Tarentino had written a western, it would be The Winter Family, which resembles "Reservoir Dogs" in mood and structure. One difference is that Tarentino’s characters never try to justify their senseless sadism. Near the end of the book, Winter muses on his life and sees it as an epic protest against civilization, which he deems “meaner than me….And it’s never going to die.” Maybe Jackman should have stuck with gratuitous mayhem.

But in the end, it all comes down to a confrontation between two monstrously competent killers—one outlaw, one Pinkerton—neither particularly virtuous, but both preposterously lethal. I won’t ruin the ending other than to say it is quite artful.

Evaluation: If you don’t mind a story that is “brutal” and “extreme” as one reviewer described it, you will find the book keeps you turning the pages.

(JAB) ( )
  nbmars | May 4, 2015 |
A fast paced old fashion western tale of a brutal gang called The Winter Family in the civil war era.

Suffering from shell shock, or just plain old mean, Augustus Winter and his gang of misfits rampage their way through an era when the wilds of America are being replaced by civilization, rules and fences. Sometimes living as outlaws, sometimes working for politicians as security and 'persuaders' , The Winter Family try to cope with a fast changing world.

The Winter Family will quickly absorb you - and not soon let go.

I received this book for free to review. I am a member of Librarything, NetGalley, Goodreads and maintain a book blog at dbettenson.wordpress.com
  DBettenson | Apr 25, 2015 |
In the final days of the Civil War Quentin Ross (who grew up wetting his bed and pulling the wings off flies) is sent off by General Sherman on a mission. Ross puts together a small band of people who have a, shall we say, tenuous connection with morality and set off. Some unfortunate decisions are made and soon enough they're wanted for desertion.

In the wake of the war, the Klan is formed in the South and several members of the gang hire themselves out to combat them. Some unfortunate decisions are made and soon enough they have to split up to save their lives.

Luckily, this was in the early days of the Union. There were huge swathes of uncharted land to get lost in. Violence-loving thugs and those with nothing to lose lead by two sociopaths could easily get lost.

Then came the Chicago election of 1872. The Republicans had held the city forever but the Democrats were beginning to organise. All the working-class people and the various ethnicities--the Irish, German, Polish, etc, were coming together in order to face the rich Republicans. President Grant has promised the gang pardons if they help maintain order on election day.

Except Augustus Winter (sociopath number two of the group) his brand of violence was beyond the pale. He was not up for pardon and he was not invited to Chicago.

So the gang is reunited in Chicago--Winter finds out, of course--and it wouldn't be a Winter Family reunion without copious amounts of violence. Once again with the unfortunate decisions and having to split up.

Eventually they wind up coming back together in Oklahoma in 1891 for the big showdown with their arch-nemesis, Matt Shakespeare, brother of one of their former members.

The main events of the book take place in Georgia 1864, Chicago 1872, Phoenix 1881 and Oklahoma 1891. Between each section are summations of what was happening in American history and what the characters did while they were apart. This could feel a little disjointed, though the narrative device is understandable because otherwise the book would have been 2,000 pages long.

The Winter Family is about race and violence and what really lives in the hearts of men. It's well-written and was difficult to put down and it covers a vast area both geographically and historically--Jackman definitely did his research--I learned a lot about parts of American history that wasn't covered at school.

Overall I'd give The Winter Family 4/5. ( )
  vlcraven | Apr 17, 2015 |
I picked up a copy of this book because the words "psychopathic killer" and "hyperkinetic Western noir" caught my attention. This book did not disappoint in the killing aspect. There were a lot of bodies piling up quickly as the story progressed. Yet, even with this factor, I did not find any of the characters that intriguing. They were just alright. Thus the story never really grabbed me and pulled me in and embraced me. After a while I found myself just drifting along skimming the story. Again only because I wanted to see how it would all play out that I did stick with the book. I could though see this book being turned into a movie produced by Quentin Tarantino. This style of book is right up that alley.

Warning to readers as there is language used. ( )
  Cherylk | Mar 4, 2015 |
Showing 5 of 5
The Chicago sections are especially entertaining, an up-close portrait of the young midwestern city with all its stink and filth, corruption and depravity, lawlessness and unruliness. The minute-by-minute descriptions of a hog-slaughtering operation are gut-churningly detailed (and, one supposes, symbolic), and the matter-of-fact, Tammany-style ward politics of the election ring absolutely true.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385539487, Hardcover)

Tracing a group of ruthless outlaws from its genesis during the American Civil War all the way to a final bloody stand in the Oklahoma territories, The Winter Family is a hyperkinetic Western noir that reads like a full-on assault to the senses.

          Spanning the better part of three decades, The Winter Family traverses America's harsh, untamed terrain, both serving and opposing the fierce advance of civilization. Among its twisted specimens, the Winter Family includes the psychopathic killer Quentin Ross, the mean and moronic Empire brothers, the impassive ex-slave Fred Johnson, and the dangerous child prodigy Lukas Shakespeare But at the malevolent center of this ultraviolent storm is their cold, hardened leader, Augustus Winter—a man with an almost pathological resistance to the rules of society and a preternatural gift for butchery. 
     From their service as political thugs in a brutal Chicago election to their work as bounty hunters in the deserts of Arizona, there's a hypnotic logic to Winter's grim borderland morality that plays out, time and again, in ruthless carnage.
     With its haunting, hard-edged style, The Winter Family is a feverishly paced meditation on human nature and the dark contradictions of progress.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:41 -0400)

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