Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart - he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone - but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place, things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
Wolverine River, Alaska, 1920
Mabel had known there would be silence. That was the point, after all. No infants cooing or wailing. No neighbor children playfully hollering down the lane. No pad of small feet on wooden stairs worn smooth by generations, or clackety-clack of toys along the kitchen floor. All those sounds of her failure and regret would be left behind, and in their place there would be silence.
She had imagined that in the Alaska wilderness silence would be peaceful, like snow falling at night, air filled with promise but no sound, but that was not what she found. Instead, when she swept the plank floor, the broom bristles scritched like some sharp-toothed shrew nibbling at her heart. When she washed the dishes, plates and bowls clattered as if they were breaking to pieces. The only sound not of her making was a sudden "caw, cawww" from outside. Mabel wrung dishwater from a rag and looked out the kitchen window in time to see a raven flapping its way ...
Obviously, my experience of reading this novel was extremely personal. It touched me deeply in a way that I'm not sure it would have had I not identified so closely with its emotional core. So I feel affection for The Snow Child that belies my disappointment in the novel as a whole. Eowyn Ivey's writing is enchanting, a pure pleasure to read. She fleshes out the landscape with striking and sensuous detail, saddles her characters with palpable pain and then blesses them with fleeting moments of contagious bliss. Every one of them is delightfully likeable, if not loveable. Despite the intimacy of their emotional lives, Ivey keeps her characters at a slight remove, which underscores their fairy-tale underpinnings, making them wistful and sweetly sad, rather than deeply, seriously sorrowful.
(Reviewed by Lucia Silva).
Full Review (1019 words).
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