Cover image for The desperate season
The desperate season
Blaine, Michael.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Rob Weisbach Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
290 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In the frozen isolation of a remote country cabin, a young man holds his mother, father, and sister at gunpoint. As their survival hangs in the balance, they must face a terrifying reality: The shadow of madness looms closer than we choose to acknowledge-and sometimes, it is born of our own flesh and blood.

It begins, as shocking events usually do, with a simple lapse in judgment: On February 26, Maurice Coleman is prematurely released from the institution where he is being treated for schizophrenia. After dumping his medications into a stream and buying a semiautomatic, Maurice makes his way through the bitter snow to his parents' secluded hunting cabin. There, he demands from them the truth-with threats that are at once vividly delusional and unmercifully violent. And from the members of the broken family that both love and fear him we learn of their complicity in Maurice's sickness: Moira, the estranged mother who offers little comfort to Maurice; Nathan, the ex-husband and devoted father who showers his son with a dangerous, unconditional love; Crissie, the younger sister who befriends, despises, and ultimately sees her brother as only a sibling can; and Vince, an outsider with a secret who finds himself drawn into the final, fateful confrontation.

A visceral, relentlessly compelling novel of true literary achievement, The Desperate Season captivates as it terrifies, with a psychological power that will resonate long after its haunting conclusion.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This is a powerful portrait of a family paralyzed by a son's mental illness, passing around blame, cringing and resentful of his visits, suffering guilt in his absence. Maurice Coleman slips through the bureaucracy of the institution where he is being treated for schizophrenia, ditches his medication, and begins a weekend of madness, mayhem, and murder in the frozen winter of upstate New York. The author alternates first-person narratives to recount the harrowing weekend and, within them, incorporates past recollections of how the events came to be. Moira, the distant mother, is a self-absorbed woman, infrequent visitor of her son, Maurice, and more friend than mother to her teenage daughter, Crissie. Nathan is a devoted father, always uncritically there for Maurice and filled with seething resentment about the careless mothering of Moira, his ex-wife. Crissie, the younger sibling, recalls memories of a troubling event that marked the beginning of an estrangement with her brother yet also recalls a closeness that continues to hold hope for reaching Maurice through his mental fog. Vince Vitale, called in ostensibly as a lawyer to record Maurice's last will and testament, is more tightly bound to the drama than he first realizes. His connection to the family goes beyond the 20-year on-again, off-again affair with Moira. Julia is Moira's close friend and Nathan's secret lover, a trusted confidante to both who has, over the years, garnered the deep secrets of this troubled and broken family. Blaine has rendered a compelling tale of madness and family relationships. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

An expertly realized account of mental illness, family trauma and violence, this first novel combines literary power with all-too-clear contemporary relevance. In the events at its harrowing center, Maurice, a young schizophrenic, stages a massacre with a semiautomatic rifle. The narration divides among six characters, beginning and ending with Maurice himselfÄa risky but ultimately successful device that allows readers to establish an empathy that balances the horror of the acts Maurice commits after escaping from the local mental hospital near his home in the Upper Catskills. Buying a semiautomatic with distressing ease, Maurice seeks out his divorced parents for a confrontation that quickly envelops the entire town. Maurice's father, Nathan, is a local bank president who loves Maurice unconditionally, but has a dark side of his ownÄhe finances his gambling habit by embezzling from accounts. Moira, Maurice's selfish mother, balances her love with fear: "Under the influence of his medication he's so calm he seems like a Buddhist. No, it's finding a way to speak to him. Groping for something to say is agony... " Soon, Maurice is holding his parents and sister, Chrissie, hostage. Also drawn in is Vince, a lawyer with a son of his own to raise, a love affair (now finished) with Moira and a secret reason to care for Maurice. Blaine's narrative never descends to exploitation of the teen violence in current headlines: instead, it's determinedly literary, psychologically acute, disturbing in the best sense of that word. In his remote and claustrophobic upstate mountain towns, Blaine creates a landscape as unforgiving as Maurice's mind. But his best creation is Maurice himself, a brilliant, sometimes charming young man who has the burden of perceiving the world in a way alien to the rest of us. 10-city author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Imagine being so afraid of your own child that you are filled with dread at the sound of his voice over the telephone. Blaine's first novel is the story of one family's struggle to come to terms with the downward spiral of their schizophrenic oldest son. Told from the perspective of various participants in the crisis, it centers on Maurice Coleman's inadvertent release from a psychiatric hospital and the drama that unfolds when he takes his family hostage at their hunting camp in New York's Catskill Mountains. The story takes place mostly over the course of two days, but the narrative moves from character to character and back and forth in time over the two-day span, keeping the reader slightly off balance. Any book should be considered a success, however, if it makes the reader exclaim out loud in a public placeÄand Blaine's novel did just that on several occasions. Recommended for all public libraries.ÄCaroline Mann, Univ. of Portland Lib., OR (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One C Maurice    Friday, February 26, 1990: 10 a.m.     Dr. Greenberg's beard is patchy and you can see islands of eczema on his cheeks and neck. He looks like a human goat. "So what are we going to do if we have a bumpy period, Maurice?"     "Make sure I'm taking my meds, doc," I say. Blithely . I watch people who are supposed to be sane and this seems like one of their characteristics. Anything they do they do it blithely . They say it blithely . They act so fucking blithe , as if everything were so easy.     "You'll call me right away if you're feeling bad?"     "Yeah, sure. Definitely."     "This is a cyclical illness, Maurice, we can control it if we want to. Your mom and dad are good people, they're going to help no matter what."     I wait for him to say something about Mom visiting me exactly twice since I've been in the bughouse but he pretends like everything is okay. With my dad, it's true, with him it's Unconditional Love. My dad is always saying, "Don't worry, I understand Maurice, he listens to me."     He wishes, but I don't listen to anybody, even myself. I feel like my body is just smoke puffing up my clothes and I can leak away any second.     My dad is supposed to pick me up in the Cherokee at around noon, so after Dr. Greenberg does the paperwork on me I stuff the forms into my jacket and take a stroll. There's a hard crust of snow on the ground and my duck boots crunch when they break the surface. When I get to this mossy stone wall that runs around the Breitman grounds, I just toss my knapsack over, lift myself up, and melt like a radio wave into the trees. I like thinking about waves. Electromagnetic waves. Heat waves. Cosmic rays. X rays. They can see right through you.     It only takes three rides, with a redneck and his police dog, then on a town truck hauling a bunch of rock salt, and then with some kind of Sloughter in a '73 Pontiac Bonneville that's so rusted you can see its skeleton. Sloughters. That's what they call these people who've been living in the hills and hollows for hundreds of years, cut off from everybody. They're part Indian, part white, and maybe a little runaway slave, and this dude Ronnie giving me the ride, when he wiggles on his ripped front seat, he gives off a stink that practically chokes me, so I get off at Stick Willow, near Natale's Pizza, right before Accordia, because I can't stand riding with him all the way home.     Anyway, his eyes are slits, you can't see them, and I hate that more than anything.     The first thing I do is dump my meds into the stream that runs next to Natale's Pizza Place. I haven't taken them for days. Ice floes dam up the water. Dead yellow reeds. There's a lot of runoff from the farms around there and the water looks blue and sudsy, so I figure my meds aren't going to hurt the environment much more, maybe they'll make a few cows see double and go down to their knees and see through this veil, this filthy veil they call a cure.     What I want to do is get in contact with my old mind, the mind that saw the edges of things sharp and clear. I used to be able to multiply eleven-digit numbers by eleven-digit numbers. In my old mind. Now a calculator goes soft in my hand and I forget what I'm doing.     Stick Willow's worse than Accordia, creepy old houses collapsing and burning down and no stores anymore except Natale's Pizza, a Quikway, Myrtle's Unisex Hair Shack, and Al's One Stop, so I walk over to the Quikway and buy a Snapple and two packages of chocolate Hostesses with chocolate icing and I sit down and I watch the old cars and pickups and milk container trucks pull in and out, and I wonder what I'm going to do because I feel like doing something. I want something to happen but I don't. It's like the lure of black thinking but very faint cause it takes a while to get the meds out of your system.     In my old mind I can feel my dad picking me up higher and higher to the roof beams of the converted barn and I love him so much all I can do is laugh. I am his flying boy. Laughing, lighter than air.     Al's One Stop Shooting Shop is right across from the Quikway. It's really just a hundred-year-old house with an electric sign hanging off the living room window. Snow starts falling light and easy, I fade in and out and it feels so good, it's me not being on the meds, and I can't wait to be myself. I was in Al's a couple of times with my dad to get ammo, and Frankie Beane, this kid I went to high school with, a sophomore, bought a Chinese AST off of Al, and around midnight on a Sunday he blew out every window in the school library with one hot spray. With the silencer on, he said it sounded like a cat hissing.     In fifth grade Frankie Beane blacked out every single word in his reader with a magic marker. Really neatly until the book was solid with black lines.     "My dad owns the bank," I tell the Quikway girl with the paper hat.     "Oh, yeah?"     "Really. Accordia National."     I can tell she doesn't believe me. "Uh-huh."     The girl with the paper hat isn't the world's leading conversationalist. Her eyes are dead olives.     So the entertainment is either Myrtle's Unisex or Al's One Stop, so there's a choice of one. I don't need a haircut anyway, I've got the new buzz cut. When I open the door a little bell tinkles but it doesn't disturb Al. He's got the Nature Channel on, polar bears, but he's snoring, hung up high on his La-Z-Boy, half a Genny Pale Ale in his fist. The room stinks of beer and cigarettes. A pair of mangy old twelve-pointers hang on the opposite wall where he's got the gun cases. Their horns look moldy. I'm not really thinking about buying anything, I'm just looking for some distraction. I mean, what's there for the youth in Stick Willow to do?     Lying there, Al's like the boa that swallowed the boar, his stomach a big hump of a thing. I cough, shuffle my feet. Nothing. If I had a truck, I could back it right to Al's front porch and rip off his whole stock, that's how dead to the world he is. The rumor is he's got grenade launchers and antitank guns. Little bubbles of spit puff out on his lips.     "Mister? You open?"     The Laz-Z-Boy heaves and rocks as he tries to get up, then settles as he falls back, blinking. "Whatcha want? You twenty-one?"     "Yes, sir. I've got my driver's license with me. Twenty-two, almost," I lie. Usually, I can't even pass for seventeen, but he doesn't ask me to show him anything. I wonder if he knows me, but he doesn't seem to recognize my face. Maybe it's the buzz cut or I got older.     "Well ... get some coffee," he mutters.     While he rattles around in the kitchen I look in the cases. There's a lot of junk, Davies pistols that could blow up in your hand, but he's got a hundred-round Caleco semi and the usual Smith & Wesson .38s. With those you pay for the name and the feel of the handle. That's what my dad says.     "Got any Glocks?"     Al waddles back in. "Nope, no Glocks. Got a nice Caleco .38 though."     The store bell tinkles and in through the door comes a shambling Sloughter farmer in shit kickers and overalls and his little boy with a haircut that's mostly scalp.     "Mind if I look around, Al?" The farmer has that people-shy, Sloughter air, with a face like somebody squeezed his features together. Stick Willow must be the Sloughter capital of the world.     Barely above a whisper, his son asks, "Daddy, the video ..."     Al breaks out in a grin. Everybody's favorite uncle. "How many times you seen this thing, Davey?"     But Davey looks away, as shy as his towering dad.     "You got the Ingram M10, sir?" I ask.     "What do you want with a gun like that?" he asks, straightening up, his stomach bobbing. "You ever seen an animal shot with one of those things?"     The room gets very quiet for a second while Al fusses with his stack of videos, finds the right cassette, and pops it in. It's as if he's ignoring my question. A century passes. I can hear how loud Al breathes, and the phlegm in his lungs. I can feel the shiny black eyes of the farmer on my face, wet marbles rolling on my skin.     His suspicions are crawling all over me, my skin itches with them. "No, sir."     "Just like pulp. A real mess. I mean, give the buck a fighting chance, am I right, Sam?"     "They're shooting 'em from their cars nowadays."     Dimly I'm aware of music in the background and quick flashes of color on the screen. Some sort of elaborate cartoon. Then I see the flashy Disney title, The Little Mermaid . "This isn't just for kids, is it, Dad?" Davey asks.     "Naa. It's got a real message, don't it, Al."     "Anything Ingram puts out is just for show, appeals to a certain type of mentality."     "I just saw it in a magazine." I stare down at the floor, trying to sound respectful. This is the same asshole who sold a Chinese AST to Frankie Beane, which he might as well be selling AK-47s while he's at it.     "All you gotta do with the M10 is file down the trip, the bolt springs forward, and you got yourself a machine gun. You a big-time drug smuggler?"     Before I can say anything, Al flings his head back, and I can see a mouthful of silver and greenish fillings. The room is too small and close, I can't breathe. Without saying anything I'm swimming to the door through a soupy haze. Then I'm out on the porch, the snow falling shhhhhhhhhhhhhh on the empty street and I can breathe, ahhhhhhhhh. Across the way, weighed down with ice, the black power lines sag.     The Stick Willow Hotel, which used to be an old stage-coach inn, has been boarded up for years, and next door the Ron De Voo is shut up also, piles of rubble on its porch. The last time I was in Stick Willow, at least the Ron De Voo was open. All these little towns up in the mountains are like this now, old people rattling around in big falling-down houses, gaps on Main Street where the burnt-down buildings used to stand. If I squint I can see the ghosts of wooden hotels with towers and huge covered porches and I can remember one of them on fire, too. Black, oily smoke and hardly a flame. Me and Dad stood across the street and heard the rafters come crashing down. Then there was a gas explosion, but my dad said the insurance company wouldn't pay off.     The Sloughter slides up beside me on the porch without a sound. "Hey, kid," he whispers. Shhhhh. The snow falls, it's a white screen between me and the Quikway. White is the sum of all the light waves in the world.     "Huh?"     "You interested in some firearms?" He sounds very formal, like a science teacher I used to have named Mr. Glanz.     "Yeah, sure."     Down the block in front of the Stick Willow Hotel, he's got a '70's Chevy parked up on the curb. The back window's all plastic and brown tape. We don't say anything, just walk. It's funny how I hear my own feet slap in the snow but the big man seems to glide beside me as if he's not touching the ground. I'm starting to wonder if he knows some kind of Sloughter magic. They're supposed to do voodoo like Haitians.     He pops the trunk and nods for me to stick my head inside it. "Don't want to get the ordnance wet. Night operations," he adds, picking up a thin black ski mask. "Goes over your head."     "You got bullets, too?"     "Clips, bullets, whatever you want. You say you like the M10? How bout this one?"     He's got it tied up in a black garbage bag, but when he gets it unwrapped he shines a flashlight on it, like a spotlight kind of, and I can see a squared-off black steel body with a stubby barrel, the grip slightly back from center. It's ugly, like a black plumbing fixture. One look and I know what it is, it's the Cobray. The ads in the gun magazines used to call it "the gun that made the eighties roar." But I just play dumb and listen.     "Thirty-two-shot magazine. We can do a private sale, no forms, no government shit. And lookit this, see these holes? Somebody went and drilled out the serial numbers before I bought it. What can I do? Here, see how it feels."     I take the machine pistol in my hands, try to extend it with my right, but it's heavy, unbalanced.     "Lemme show you," the Sloughter says. "This is a hands gun. Gotta hold it with two hands. Then all you gotta do is spray it in a range. All that firepower, you'll hit something."     I lift the gun again, this time with two hands. It feels better. The sight sucks, but like the guy said, all you gotta do is spray. "How much?"     "Five hundred," he says, trying to keep a straight face.     These people think just because your boots aren't covered with cow pies, you don't know shit about guns. "Cobray costs three hundred new. I'll give you two hundred if it works."     "Two fifty."     "Two twenty-five. That's more than it's worth." The gun's a piece of crap but it'll scare the shit out of anybody when they see it at first. "You got some place to try it out?"     "Sure, you got the money?"     "Don't worry. We can go to the cash machine at Accordia National."     My dad always leaves a thousand dollars in my account in case of an emergency. Dr. Greenberg is right about him. Nobody visits Breitman as much as Dad. He's always keeping up with new drugs and therapies for me, too, he always brings me presents and letters from Crissie, and he's a good listener. That's why I'm trying to get back in contact with my old mind, for Dad. He didn't even mind when the knife went into him in the kitchen. After that I think he loved me even more. Copyright (c) 1999 Michael Blaine. All rights reserved.