The narrator of the story is a 32 year old alcoholic smart ass who lives at home with his mother and her husband. He spends his free time drinking himself into an alcoholic blackout, after first vomiting on his shirt or misplacing his belongings. His brother had been killed 20 years earlier, though, so that explains the irresponsible behavior. Because tragedies 20 years ago make it completely impossible to live a normal life today. Or something.

OK. So I didn’t like the narrator, or any of the characters, really. And except for a little epiphany near the end, there isn’t a plot so much as a series of connected vignettes.

But despite that, I liked the book. The writing was clean and spare, with believable dialogue (especially in the drunken bar scenes) and precise descriptions that bring the place of the novel into focus. The story was moved along by having the narrator make a series of bad choices - it keeps you wondering what specific shit he is going to get himself into next. What could possibly go wrong, for example, when trying to get back with the girl who walked out on you and stole your gun? And dragging a sleeping drunk bar customer from the bar to the toilet to rob him - that’s legit, right? No possible repercussions there. And because it is such a short book (about 130 pages), it was easy enough to stay with it to the end.

I would like to say that this book gave me some insight into the lives of Indians in Montana in the 1970s - but that would be untrue. Everything in the novel is filtered through the narrator, and the narrator is not trustworthy, and I have no reason to believe that he is representative (whatever that might mean). All we see with any certainty is a few days in the life of an alienated young man, Indian by birth and boozy by choice.

So all I really got from this book was a wild ride with someone who I kept hoping would pull himself together.



Book cover

Metadata Info

  • Title: Winter in the Blood
  • Author: James Welch
  • Published: 1974
  • ISBN: 0140086447
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 4.0 stars