Invoking so much of factual 1979 New York, I had to look twice to ensure I was reading a work of fiction. Indeed, author Tom Barbash used real events of that year as a backdrop for his novel, The Dakota Winters. We meet the Winters family through the voice of 23-year old Anton whom returns early from a Peace Corps assignment in Africa, having contracted malaria. Anton arrives in time to help his father Buddy Winters, America’s premier and loved talk show host, recover his career from walking off the set during a monologue and disappearing for months.
After much self-reflection, Buddy makes ready for his comeback and needs his son’s support to do so. With maturity and poise beyond his years, Anton traverses his father’s fragile emotions, regaining the trust of those in the business whom felt betrayed by Buddy’s walk off, his mother and siblings trepidation about his father’s readiness for return to t.v., and his own growth as an adult and professional. All of this takes place with his home as the anchor - The Dakota - a real building in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and home to New York’s wealthy, including the Winters, restaurant magnates, authors, artists, and of course, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Barbash reminds us throughout the story of the issues and events of the day - the Iran hostage crisis, Lake Placid Olympics, crime, Ted Kennedy’s election run - and weaves many of the characters of the day into the story. He even uses John Lennon’s real life adventure to develop Anton’s character and provide readers with what perhaps Lennon’s personality may have been.
Anton’s character is a loving and low-key, trusted partner for Buddy. He’s worked for Buddy since he was a teenager, and he pulls through with calm encouragement when it’s needed most. But as Buddy’s career ramps up, Anton finds himself conflicted, as he begins to yearn for a career independent of his father’s.
The Dakota Winters is pure delight, deftly combining the singular appeal of New York inhabited by sensitive and smart personalities. It has a subtle and clever tone that brings sensitivity and wit to a difficult period.
Vickie’s rating: 5 stars