The Hamptons is famous for beautiful beaches, rolling green golf courses, Rodeo Drive-like shopping and generally being a, to quote the well-worn media trope, “playground for the rich and famous.” But there’s another Hamptons—the stark, grey, cold and often desolate place locals know well from October to March. This is the Hamptons in author Matt Marinovich’s sizzling new thriller, The Winter Girl (Doubleday, 2016), and his book is so much better for it.
A summer visitor to Southampton since childhood, Marinovich is keenly aware of the region’s undercurrents of class struggle, us-against-them attitudes and the literally thousands of homes left empty for nine months a year. One such house was the real-life inspiration for, and a critical piece of, The Winter Girl.
The book’s tension takes hold when Scott—a struggling photographer who is staying in Shinnecock Hills with his wife Elise to care for her terminally ill father—notices a bedroom light in the vacant home next door turn off at precisely 11 p.m. every night. With bills piling up and his marriage eroding, Scott’s curiosity about the light and the house becomes a welcome distraction and then obsession, even after it’s clear the light is on an automatic timer.
Eventually, no longer able to resist, Scott breaks in. Then he brings his wife to the house and their naughty, voyeuristic adventure ignites a sexual passion the couple thought long gone between them. But in a moment, Scott and Elise make a sinister discovery that sets them along a much darker path.
What follows is a page-turning, sexy and brutal ride that will linger and haunt readers well past reading the final poignant, vicious words.
Marinovich, who wrote his first draft of The Winter Girl during a dizzying eight-week burst of inspiration while staying at his mother’s home in Southampton’s Atterbury Hills, is returning to the scene of the crime this weekend for a reading at Southampton Books (details below).
In a recent phone call from his home in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, the author took some time to answer questions and discuss the book. [Some questions are paraphrased.]
The Winter Girl popped up on our radar because it takes place in the Hamptons. Have you spent a lot of time out here?
I was fortunate enough to have a family that had a house out there. I’m very familiar with it, but have mixed feelings about Southampton because…I was on the outside of the whole social kind of thing and always felt conflicted about the whole money thing. It’s got it all going on out there as far as the conflict between wealth and people working for the wealthy and all the…just—you can hear in my voice, I get, I feel almost like I’d love to love Southampton but I always feel like when I get out there in the summer there’s something else I hate about it.
I think a lot of people experience that conflict.
It’s a love/hate thing is what I’m trying to say. I think that’s a better way to put it. It’s just a beautiful place. If there’s any place I would want to eventually live when I was older, it would be Southampton, but I have such mixed feelings about it.
The fact that you describe Shinnecock Hills and mention Hampton Bays in the book makes it seem like you really know the area.
I was getting a divorce, so I was out at my mother’s place she had at the time in Atterbury Hills. I was out there alone and that was the whole inspiration for the book because I got bored and started walking around [outside] the house next door that was unoccupied.
Was there an automatic light?
There was an automatic light and there was furniture inside and there was liquor that was half full on a cabinet and you know, photographs on the dresser—everything was like as if it was left and that someone would come back. It was creepy. And it was falling apart. The insulation was coming off the windows, the shingles were coming off, but everything was intact inside. You could see books, coffee table books, the fake palm tree—the fake ficus tree. But I never went inside. So instead in the following weeks I would just spend at my mother’s place next door writing a novel about what would have happened if I had gone in.
That is sort of fascinating isn’t it—to kind of look into other people’s homes and see these other lives?
It’s to the point where it would have been almost as much fun to go inside and actually enter it instead of writing a novel. It was that addictive, the whole thing. But I wrote the novel instead, which is better.
Are you generally an obsessive type person like the character in the book who’s looking at the house?
You mean like I get obsessed with a certain idea? Yeah, absolutely. And when I’m writing well, I definitely do it in a rush. That book was written, the original version was written in maybe eight weeks, and the first novel [Strange Skies (Harper Perennial, 2007)] was written in maybe six weeks. But in this case, it was revised over a period of years, so it took longer.
How is the reception for the book so far?
It’s been good. It’s a second novel. The first one had a kind of rough ride, you know, and this one had a really good review in The Washington Post, which really helped things along. So it’s had an easier time as far as reviews, which is nice because I’ve been on the other end of it where it’s been harder. And it’s selling better than the first novel, and that’s great. We’re about three weeks, four weeks in, so hopefully it keeps going. That’s my wish right now.
Matt Marinovich is reading and signing The Winter Girl at Southampton Books (16 Hampton Road) in Southampton Village on Saturday, February 27 at 4 p.m. Call 631-283-0270 or visit southampton-books.com for more info.