Book Review: The Winter Sisters by Tim Westover

With some delightful turns of phrase, Tim Westover endeavors to transport readers to the little frontier town of Lawrenceville, Georgia in 1822. His “Winter Sisters,” Rebecca, Sarah, and Effie, know mountain magic- or is it intuition and herb lore? They’re at turns revered by the townsfolk for their remedies, and, when instigated by the local clergyman, reviled as witches. 

Lured by a rumor of a rabies outbreak, cock-sure Dr. Aubrey Waycross arrives to introduce science and modern medicine (such as it was in 1822, with its “bleeding” and “blistering” and amputating) to the superstitious citizens hoping to earn the “county seat.” He confronts what he suspects are “Grannies,” but discovers instead three young, wise, potentially magical women. Their treatments are gentler and often more effective than anything Dr. Waycross has learned. 

“If only people could control themselves, half of the world’s curing wouldn’t be needed, nor half the world’s guns.” The story sets up an antagonism between the Winter Sisters and the pastor. When asked why she wouldn’t leave, Rebecca Winter explained, “…in another place, I would not be the same person. I am my roots.” 

Told alternately by Dr. Waycross in the first person and (usually) in the third from the perspective of the Winters, the story includes a bit of romance. “She could talk about manure or the moon, so long as we were talking.” Atmospheric touches, some seriously high-falooting language (I had to consult my dictionary twice!) and research abound. “Every person cast ten foot shadows, so the earth writhed and wriggled with a thousand specters.” However, the story jumps around quite a bit, and some of the story lines “resolve” without a clear picture of what happened. Otherwise, The Winter Sisters provides an atmospheric peek into Georgia’s past.