Excerpt from In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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In the Midst of Winter

by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende X
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2017, 352 pages
    Sep 2018, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Natalie Vaynberg

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In The Midst of Winter

Traffic was restricted except for emergencies, which was exactly what this was. He looked up the address of the nearest veterinary hospital, which he remembered passing by at some point. He wrapped the cat in a blanket and put him in his car. He was glad he had brushed the snow off that morning, and relieved the disaster had not occurred the day before while the blizzard was raging. Brooklyn had become a Nordic city, white on white, the angles softened by the snow, empty streets, and a strange peace, as if nature were yawning. "Don't you dare get the idea of dying, Três, please. You're a proletarian cat, you've got steel guts, a bit of antifreeze is nothing, hang in there," Richard encouraged him as he drove with painful slowness through the snow, conscious that each extra minute could prove fatal for Três. "Stay calm, pal, hang on. I can't go any quicker because if we skid we're done for. We're almost there. I'm sorry I can't go any faster . . ."

A journey that would normally have taken twenty minutes took twice as long. By the time he finally arrived at the clinic, it was snowing again and Três was being shaken with fresh convulsions, bringing up more pink froth. The cat was seen by an efficient veterinarian of few gestures or words. She showed no optimism about the cat or sympathy for his owner. His negligence had caused the accident, she told her assistant in a low voice, although not so low that Richard did not hear. On another occasion he would have reacted to this sarcastic comment, but a powerful wave of bad memories caught him off guard, and he remained silent, humiliated. This was not the first time that his negligence had proved fatal. From that terrible moment on, he had become so careful and had taken so many precautions that he often felt he went through life walking on eggshells. The vet explained that there was little she could do. The blood and urine tests would show whether the damage to the kidneys was irreversible, in which case the cat was going to suffer and it would be better to give it a dignified end. It had to stay at the clinic; there would be a definitive diagnosis in a couple of days, but he should prepare himself for bad news. Richard nodded, on the verge of tears. He said goodbye to Três with his heart in a knot, feeling the vet's hard look from behind: an accusation and a sentence rolled into one.

He handed his credit card for the initial deposit to the receptionist, a young woman with carrot-colored hair and a ring in her nose. When she saw how he was shaking, she took pity on him, reassuring him that his pet would be very well looked after, and pointed out the coffee machine. Faced with this gesture of minimal kindness, Richard was overwhelmed by a disproportionate sense of gratitude and let out a deep sob. If anyone had asked him his feelings toward his four pets, he would have answered that he fulfilled his duty by feeding them and cleaning their litter tray. His relationship with the cats was no more than polite, excepting with Dois, who demanded affection. That was all. Never had he imagined he would come to appreciate those aloof felines as part of the family he did not have. He sat on a chair in the waiting room and drank a cup of watery, bitter coffee while the receptionist looked on sympathetically. After taking two of the green pills for his nerves, and a pink one for his stomach acidity, he gradually regained control. He had to get home.

The car headlights revealed a desolate cityscape as Richard drove cautiously in the twilight, peering out through the semicircle free of frost on the windshield. The streets seemed like those of an unknown city; for a minute he thought he was lost, even though he had taken this route before. Time seemed at a standstill. The hum of the heating blower and the relentless back-and-forth motion of the windshield wipers gave the impression that the car was suspended in a fog. With the unsettling sensation of being the only soul alive in an abandoned world, Richard was talking to himself as he drove, his head filled with sounds and gloomy thoughts about the inevitable horrors of the world and of his own life in particular. How much longer was he going to live, and in what state? If a man lives long enough, he gets prostate cancer. If he lives longer, his brain starts to disintegrate. Richard had reached the age of fear: no longer attracted by travel, he was tied to the comfort of home. He did not want any shocks and was scared of getting lost, or of dying and no one finding his body until a couple of weeks later, by which time the cats would have devoured most of what remained. The possibility of being found in a puddle of putrefying viscera terrified him so much that he had agreed with his neighbor, a widow with a steely temperament and a sentimental heart, that he would send her a text every night. He had given her a key so that if he did not text her for two days in a row, she could come and take a look around his house. The text message was just two words: Still alive. She was under no obligation to reply but, feeling a similar fear, always did so with three words: Shit, me too. The most dreadful thing about death was the idea of eternity. Dead forever, how terrible.

Excerpted from In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende. Copyright © 2017 by Isabel Allende. Excerpted by permission of Atria Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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