Title: Winter Kept Us Warm
Author: Robert Gerdes
Publisher: Wilde City Press
Release Date: July 25, 2015
Genre(s): Literary Fiction, Historical
Page Count: 97
Reviewed by: LenaRibka
Heat Level: 0 flames out of 5
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
In 1964 Bob, an inexperienced young man, begins college in Washington, DC. He plans to follow in the footsteps of JFK. Instead, he is drawn into the Vietnam War. Early on Bob befriends Paul, an intellectual and anti-war activist. He sees Paul as a kindred spirit. Both Bob and Paul grope in the dark, trying to figure out how they fit into the larger world sexually and emotionally. The novel paints a vivid picture of how alienating it was to grow up not exclusively heterosexual in that era. Younger readers need to see how different and hostile the world was then.
I liked the blurb, it gave me hope, that this novel could be something similar to Full Circle by Michael Thomas Ford, one of my favourite books. It’s why I asked for the ARC and looked forward to experiencing the turbulence time of the 1960s, the time of social changes, anti-war and the civil rights movement and sexual liberation through lives of Bob and Paul, the main characters of the book.
Winter Kept Us Warm started on a sad note. I read the first sentence
“Paul’s grave bore the predictable inscription: Beloved Son and Brother”.
and I knew immediately that this book wouldn’t be a chronologically structured story, but that a reader would be guided through Bob’s nostalgic memories of his youth back in the 1960s. If you’re looking for a sweet romance, you should keep away from it, there is nothing romantic here, it is realistic fiction.
Bob, the narrator, the frustrated artist, came to Washington DC from California, to major in political science and economic in GWU. Here he met Paul Kaufman, the alienated intellectual, a Jewish politic student, an idealist who believed that the perfect society could be achieved in his lifetime. They became friends, not with benefits. In spite of Bob’s admiration for his friend and Paul’s very vague and inexperienced attempts of intimacy, their main occupation remained discussing political theory and international law. It was okay with me. Remember? Realistic fiction.
But here also started my problems as a reader. Bob, the narrator, kept on saying that he and Paul at that time were two “lost souls that desperately needed each other”, but more he said it, less I believed him. I just couldn’t feel this closeness between them, neither in the plot, nor between the lines. Bob and Paul had never been really close to each other, IMO, or the author just failed to convince me.
As the Vietnam War escalated Paul persuaded Bob to flee to Canada to escape being drafted into the war. They lived there together for many months, in a small apartment with two beds, and survived their first extremely cold winter in a foreign country, trying to adjust to new surroundings, new jobs and new friends. But even under these circumstances I still couldn’t see them as two very close friends. The way Bob ended his forced emigration and returned in the USA leaving Paul back in Canada only increased my “not fond of him”.
In spite of the first person POV (my favourite way of telling) and some decades that I, as a reader, spent in Bob’s company I knew very less of him as a person at the end of the book. Was he gay? Asexual? Straight? Did he have a partner or friends? His attitudes?
Even though I got to know Paul better, he remained very distanced to me too.
Bob belongs to those people who can’t make close contacts with someone else. I can’t remember a single situation that showed Bob acting like a REAL FRIEND to anyone.The reason for his nostalgic memories could be explained very simply: Paul was the only HUMAN BEING in the whole universe who succeeded to be a bit more for Bob than just an acquaintance.
The main idea of this book is shown in a little dialogue Bob had with a hair-dresser somewhere towards the end.
“All it takes mio amico for happiness in life is being with a few good friends.“
I inadvertently let out, “I had that once.”
I presume that this book is biographical, it is why it feels uncomfortable to criticize the plot and the narrator in this case. But he is the main reason for my NOT ENJOYING this book as much as I hoped to do.
Kept Us Warm was supposed to be a story of friendship, coming of age, and finding your own place in the world during the turbulent time period of the 1960s, but it turned out to be the memories of someone’s life back in the 1960s told by a lonely and unhappy person.
I have a dilemma of rating this book. It had a lot of potential. Besides, in spite of my issues, I enjoyed the writing style and a historical aspect in it, though the unfocused storyline + boring side characters + an unappealing narrator ruined my reading pleasure.