FIVE TUESDAYS IN WINTER: STORIES by Lily King; Grove Atlantic, 2021; 240 pages, $27.

FIVE TUESDAYS IN WINTER: STORIES

Austrian writer Karl Kraus (1874-1936) once said: “A writer is someone who can make a riddle out of an answer.” Anyone who has ever read the work of Portland author Lily King knows Kraus is right.

“Five Tuesdays in Winter” is King’s first short-story collection, following five successful novels including “Writers & Lovers” in 2019. Five stories have been previously published, five are brand new, and all are thoughtfully provocative.

As an award-winning, best-selling author, King does exactly what Kraus suggests with these 10 subtly intricate stories, creating a riddle and an answer, but the reader will have to figure out which is which. Who is the hero, who is the villain? Who is the victor, who is the victim? And more importantly, why?

Figuring out who is angry and unhappy is easy, but the real reasons why may be harder to see. Subjects include sexual awakening and abuse, ugly family troubles, infidelity, unfathomable sadness and helplessness, teenage angst and some eye-opening experiences, even a delightfully tender romance encouraged by a 12-year-old girl. The title story features a shy, divorced man who owns a bookstore, hopelessly smitten with both a charming female employee and his favorite mushroom soup.

Other stories include bitter, blame-filled tension between mothers and daughters, a gay man’s conflicted feelings that turn out badly, and the antics of a teenage boy and his two college-student babysitters.

Best is “The Man at the Door,” a creepy tale about an aspiring writer confronted at her home by a strange man who harshly criticizes the book she hasn’t written yet. Then he tells her “I have never understood why a person who is not a genius bothers with art. What’s the point?” It’s not hard to see what comes next.

 

WINTER: NOTES AND NUMINA FROM THE MAINE WOODS by Dana Wilde; North Country Press, 2021; 220 pages, $17.95.

WINTER: NOTES AND NUMINA FROM THE MAINE WOODS

Maine is blessed with smart people who study and understand science and the natural world, but most importantly, they can actually write about it lucidly, so folks can truly understand nature’s wonders. And one of Maine’s best nature and science writers is Troy author Dana Wilde.

Wilde is an award-winning journalist and Fulbright Scholar, well-known for his long-running newspaper column “Backyard Naturalist.”  “Winter” is his sixth book, an intriguing collection of 51 essays about winter, the cold, dark season when the earth is asleep. Most essays are short, a few quite long, but all are beautifully crafted to evoke wonder, questions and answers, with a bit of philosophy and metaphysics mixed in.

Wilde focuses on the five months, from November’s gray prelude saying “winter is next,” to March’s teasing that winter might really end after all. He comments on the beauty of a single ray of sunlight shining on a beech leaf, wonders how trees and shrubs survive winter when they appear to be dead, and about why winter stars change position in the clear night sky.

Other essays describe why December days are so short and dark, the antics of winter wildlife like the bobcat, raccoon and porcupine, and the excitement of following bear tracks in the snow. Several essays explain winter stars and planets like Polaris and Pluto, as well as various types of moons (the one we know and others we don’t know).

He also treats readers to hilarious thoughts on snow shoveling, icy driveways and why winter isn’t just a change of clothes. His advice to himself: Stop whining.

Learn, too, the curious meanings of words like morphology, cosmography, brumel and gnosis, and about six different types of ice crystals. This is fascinating, fun and educational.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

Comments are not available on this story.