Good question! And one I think that every reader was meant to be left pondering. I think the author just left the story open to individual interpretation. My feeling was that Faina had experienced such an overwhelming sense of confinement that manifested itself in the illness she suffered so soon after giving birth, and she realized she could no longer live as others expected her to - not even with her child to care for. I felt like she might come back at some point, on a dark, snowy night, to flit among the trees and once again make her ghost-like presence known ... or she may have simply wandered off to die. Or possibly, to return to the world that she came from - a world not clearly defined, ethereal, OTHER-worldly.
I, too, was very confused with the ending...I understand what Bajablonde says and agree with it, however, i just wish the ending would have been more defined. I wasn't sure if Faina died or just disappeared as usual and return. I would have preferred some closure.
Interesting . . . it never occurred to me that Faina might still be alive. I interpreted it that she went off into the snow to die. I guess I thought that because she left all her clothes and in the epilogue it sounded like she hasn't been around since that night. But you're right, nothing definite is stated.
Even more puzzling than the ending was Faina's origins. We're made to believe on one level that Jack and Mabel "created" her by building the snow girl that one fateful night, but based on what Jack discovers in that secret house built into the mountainside, it seems as if Faina had real parents. So...where did the little girl come from, exactly?? Overall, thought this was the most beautifully written story I've read in a long time.
I was under the impression that Faina had indeed died at the end. The description of her clothes lying on the ground, with the nightgown still buttoned and inside the coat -- sounds as though she actually melted, which would have been consistent with the way she sweated indoors in some of the scenes, and needed cold air and snow to feel better. Although she was taken outdoors by Garrett and Mabel, it was too late as the fever was within. It would also have been consistent with her magical quality, as humans cannot melt ;) It was as if she melted away due to having been "tamed" or domesticated, even though she wanted to (she had NOT wanted to as a child, when Mabel had tried to get her to stay and be schooled). Her dying also would be consistent with the story that Mabel read in the fairy tale book -- recall that she would occasionally refer to the book in order to know the snow child's fate. At one point, she studies the scene in the book where the snow maiden is getting married, and on another page, Mabel sees the wedding flowers worn on the girl's head as a type of "grave marker" in the ground. It's as if Mabel, by looking at the book, knew what could happen after Faina got married and began living in a cabin with Garrett. It's why Mabel felt light-headed and sick at the wedding. She knew. It was as though Faina was never meant to be tamed, to become a wife and mother, responsible for another human -- although she did try and she did express a strong desire to care for her baby. At the end, Faina is gone and her son seems to be around 5 or 6 years old, which means that Faina hasn't been back for several winters. However, Mabel and Jack seem to hold out hope that one day she will return. The story specifically states that Mabel and Jack avoided the fairy tale book after Faina disappeared -- maybe they didn't want to know if the fable said she would never return. I think it's why the story ends with Jack and Mabel looking out the window, and Mabel says, "it's snowing". With every snowfall, they can hope. Looking at the fairy tale book would perhaps spoil that hope for them -- it's as if they don't want to know, hope is better.
What a beautiful response! Perhaps Faina as a spirit was offered the chance to become human for awhile, much like The Little Mermaid? She could take human form, but there were rules, which, if broken, meant she must return to spirit form again. The wide openness of the ending, and the never quite knowing her origins, only magnified the mystical quality of the book. We have been discussing the absence of talking marks with Faina in another thread. Perhaps the idea is that we can never truly fathom the Great Mystery that is life.
rI loved the ending, it leaves you with the ability to imagine what really happened. As we can see from the above responses Faina could have died by melting away or she could have shed her clothes and gone off to live in the snowy reaches of Alaska.
While Mabel referenced the Russian fairy tale at one point in the book, after she had been thinking of the wreath of flowers as a grave marker the thought came to her "Why not choose Joy." In other words, what was happening to them did not have to end the way the Russian fairy tale did.
I wonder if the swan feathers that Faina put on her wedding dress were a symbol of her desire or intention to fly away from this situation. Or did they symbolize her fear that she would die from going through with the marriage.
So you can think of all the possible endings, sketch them out, and choose the one most satisfying to you. I think this is how a good author engages the reader....makes them become a co-author of the ending.