Books 2013 – The Snow Child

Right off the bat, I should tell you that The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is not the kind of novel that I usually read. I have trouble with “magical” tales. With the exception of the Harry Potter series, which for some reason makes sense to me, I don’t believe in magic. If it’s something otherworldly, I always look for the logical explanation. For example. even though I was riveted by the TV series LOST, the whole time I kept thinking that there had to be a plausible rationale for this curious series of events. (And I am sure you can guess how I felt about the final answer to all of those myriad questions after six seasons.) My point is, I am skeptical when it comes to all the hullabaloo about so-called-magic.

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But, the book came highly recommended, so I decided to give it a shot, and right off the bat, it pulled me in. Jack and Mabel are an older couple who’ve left the family farm in Pennsylvania behind for an adventure in Alaska. They buy land in this vast wilderness, and while Jack clears that land, Mabel is left alone, feeling so isolated that she even takes a half-hearted shot at ending it all. Things at this point are looking very dark for Jack and Mabel. They’ve lost a child, years ago, and both still ache from that loss. In addition, they are trying to build this farm, which involves clearing the trees for fields, back-breaking work that Jack may be too old for. So their money is running out, and they are pretty sad in general.

And then it snows. In a moment of feeling close to each other, Jack and Mabel build a snow child, adorning it with a scarf and mittens, and they go to bed that night feeling a bit better, at least about their marriage. In the morning, they find that their snow child has been demolished and the scarf and mittens are missing. And here’s where things get kind of mystical. Jack an Mabel find footprints. They begin to catch glimpses of a little girl in the woods, a girl with white-blonde hair who is wearing the scarf and mittens. Is this their snow child come to life? Is it some kind of apparition? Are they going insane?

Of course they are not going insane, since it would be impossible for them both to have the same hallucination. But here Ivey alludes to the possibility that this snow child, who over time warms up to the couple and reveals that her name is Faina, might be something ethereal. She overheats in the house, and needs the door to be open at all times. In the winter. In Alaska. Mabel remembers a book of Russian fairy tales that her father used to read to her, and it just happens to contain a story about an old couple who fashion a child out of snow who comes to life, providing a glimpse into a possible future for Faina. Faina can’t spend the night in the cabin. Sometimes she seems to conjure swirls of snow simply by raising her hands to the sky. She can hold a single snowflake in the palm of her hand long enough for Mabel to sketch it. She leaves every spring and returns at the next winter’s first snow. She certainly seems to be something out of a fairy tale. And I think I would have been fine if she had been, but Ivey also points to signs that Faina may be real afterall.

Over time, Jack and Mabel grow to love Faina as their own daughter. Despite their hardships, their farm thrives and every winter they look forward to Faina’s return. But the thought kept nagging me, how is it possible for this child, if she is real, to live in the wilderness? I mean, really? It’s winter in Alaska!! And eventually Ivey does bring in some logical answers for Faina’s past, but that kind of left me wondering what the point was of suspending the fairytale into the third act of the book.

Yes, this is a novel of love and loss, and in the end everything generally turns out all right. I did enjoy the view of homesteading in Alaska, and it was interesting to see how Jack and Mabel developed relationships with their neighbors. It would make a good chicky book club book, since it’s got all of those subtly romantic elements that some of the ladies like to read. But for me, it wasn’t magical or logical enough to really find a permanent place in my heart.

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