The Snow Child - an evocative novel
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Published 2017; 386 pages
I've had this book on my Kindle for 7 years and finally read it - what was my reluctance???? Honestly, I don't know, but every time I scrolled by it on the Kindle, I just kept scrolling. This time I put it on my COYER challenge list as a motivator and then it showed up as the lead off book in the monthly 6 Degrees of Separation. It's a sign.
First Sentence: "Mabel had known there would be silence. That was the point, after all."
I discovered The Snow Child is Ivey's debut novel and won her a Pulitzer nomination. Impressive. It's built around an old Russian fairy tale, The Snow Child.
Jack and Mabel are a middle aged couple that needs a change from the family and work in Pennsylvania so they move to a homestead in Alaska to start over. Their relationship struggles as the unexpected harshness of the weather, the long days of sunlight or long days of darkness, the solitude, and the sheer volume of work beat them down. In a rare moment of fun, they build a show-child.
The next day the snow-girl is gone along with the scarf and mittens, and then they see a girl with that red scarf dashing among the trees. Gradually the couple wins her trust and eventually fall in love with their snow-girl as if she was their daughter. Years go by, Faina grows up, things change. I don't want to give too much detail of their years together - you should discover that for yourself.
Set in 1920s Alaskan wilderness, this book is VERY evocative of place. The vivid descriptions of the snow, the cold, the harshness of the weather and terrain, the meadows, the mountains, and the storms are exceptional. The locale and the climate are almost another character and Ivey made me feel every snowflake.
This is a delightful book full of love, loss, despair, joy, and surprise. And then there's Alaska. Eowyn Ivey lives in Alaska and you can feel her love pervade the story. It's such an atmospheric setting.
Mabel is an irresistible, well rounded, well thought out character. When we meet her, she's drowning in despair; she's lonely; her marriage is struggling and they're growing apart. Then we see her begin to thaw a bit as she becomes attached to Faina. Mabel makes a friend and begins to blossom as she settles into being happy. Jack is the quiet, stoic type that acts as a good contrast to Mabel. That character growth is so absorbing.
One of my strongest pet peeves is when authors don't use quotation marks. I don't get it, and I find it very annoying. However, I was more than half way through this book before I noticed there are no quote marks! That's how good it is. :)
I highly recommend it as a book that covers a range of emotions, that eloquently describes an unforgiving but beautiful land, and that has a delightful touch of magical realism. It would make a great bookclub selection.