Wednesday, March 6, 2013

THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey

Mabel and her husband Jack are homesteading in Alaska in the early 1900s, at Mabel's urging.  Although they are now in their 50s and possibly not up to the task of farming in such an inhospitable climate, Mabel is still grieving for her stillborn child and felt that the change would do them good.  As the novel opens, though, Mabel is venturing out onto the thinning ice, expecting it to split open so that she will be swallowed up in the frigid water.  She survives her trek, though, and then persuades Jack to help her build a snowman, or snow-girl, in this case, complete with scarf and mittens.  By morning, the snowman has melted, but the scarf and mittens have been pilfered by a mysterious sprite-like child named Faina, who apparently lives a hunting-and-gathering existence in the bitter cold.  Mabel and Jack virtually adopt Faina, although their cabin is too warm and cozy for her to ever feel comfortable enough to spend the night.  Despite Mabel's desire to live a quiet and isolated life, she finds herself becoming friends with Esther (my favorite character), the no-nonsense matriarch of a family homesteading nearby.  Esther and her husband and sons, along with Faina, rescue the despairing Mabel and Jack, with advice, physical labor, and emotional support.  I had to admire the author's ability to evoke the beauty of such a vast and unforgiving landscape, but I found the storyline to be extremely predictable.  Sometimes I don't even mind that in a book, but here I found myself checking off each expected event on my mental checklist.  It doesn't help that Faina's story mirrors a tale from Mabel's childhood, which Mabel narrates for us, foretelling Faina's destiny.  My real problem with this story, though, is that, while it's clear that Faina lives and breathes, the author dangles the possibility that Mabel conjured her from a snowman.  That's all well and good as the theme for a holiday song, but I couldn't quite accept it as serious literature.

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