By Dawn Watson
Year-round East Enders know that the winter can be a dark and dreary time.
Unless you’re Matt Marinovich and it’s the winter of 2008, which was absolute murder for him. November was especially cruel, says the author. He came out east from Brooklyn to seek a bit of solace and to recover from the death of his marriage. What he got instead while he was holed up at his mother’s waterfront home in the Atterbury Hills neighborhood of Shinnecock Hills was some extremely foul play indeed.
The days were dismal. The landscape desolate and grey. And aside from his presence, the whole area was deserted and eerie feeling.
Bored, sad and wounded, he sat alone and brooded. But then he got curious and started nosing around the neighborhood, soon discovering that the house next door looked quite lived-in even though it sat derelict and empty. Almost as if someone had been called away in the middle of the day but never returned.
“The McMansion next door was falling apart on the outside but looked like it had been hermetically sealed on the inside—fully furnished, complete with the placemats set out on the table,” Mr. Marinovich recalls. “It was very intriguing and mysterious. I wanted to explore it. But I wimped out.”
Instead of breaking in and breaking the law, he sat down and started writing about what could happen. Using bits and pieces of the personal trauma he was experiencing, and the whole cloth of the stark Hamptons off-season locale, the author began to spin a truly sinister yarn that eventually became “The Winter Girl,” which was released by Doubleday in January and will be the subject of an author talk at Southampton Books on Saturday, February 27.
The dark tale, which has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster “Gone Girl,” starts out in a similar mood and setting to the author’s own unhappy reality at the time. But then it veers dramatically and heads into seriously devious territory.
In real life, Mr. Marinovich sat tight and wrote practically non-stop for two weeks straight, finding the beginnings of catharsis while completing nearly half of the first draft of “The Winter Girl” in that time. In the book, the writer’s second novel, the male protagonist, Scott, actually does do what the author didn’t dare.
The curious character can’t resist the allure of the empty house next door. He breaks in and stumbles upon what looks to be a crime scene.
Instead of alerting the authorities, the judgment-impaired anti-hero convinces his soon-to-be-ex wife, Elise, to join him in further exploring the abandoned home. Big mistake.
In addition to a blood-soaked mattress and a slew of ancient but unheard phone messages, the misanthropic pair—who are essentially staying at her terminally ill father’s beach house on the outskirts of Southampton while waiting for him to die—discover a dark secret. It appears that no good end has come to their neighbors.
Without giving the twisty-turny plot away, tragedy inevitably follows Scott and Elise, neither of who turn out to be quite as nice as they might initially seem. Their story, and that of the mysterious title character, is unsettling but oh so fulfilling for those who love a good tale about bad people.
Though not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, it’s exactly the kind of book that Mr. Marinovich prefers, he says.
“I like writing about unredeemable characters and unlikeable heroes; it’s a niche I’m trying to carve out,” he reports. “After all, even good people are not good people 100 percent of the time. And I happen to be in love with books with narrators you can’t quite trust, who turn on you.”
If reader interest is there, the author says he’d love to examine the idea of Hamptons noir in another book.
“There are all sorts of possibilities, especially in the wintertime, when the weather is bad and it’s so isolated,” he says. “The darker, the stormier, the better.”
Matt Marinovich will visit Southampton Books on Saturday, February 27, at 4 p.m. for a book signing and author talk on “The Winter Girl.” For additional information, visit www.southampton-books.com.