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The Snow Child: A Novel Paperback – November 6, 2012
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"Ivey's prose is beautiful and precise...Magical...As real and mysterious as winter's first snowflake."―Buzzy Jackson, Boston Globe
"The real magic of The Snow Child is that it's never as simple as it seems, never moves exactly in the direction you think it must...Sad as the story often is, with its haunting fairy-tale ending, what I remember best are the scenes of unabashed joy."―Ron Charles, Washington Post
"Full of wonder, longing, hope, pain, and beauty...The Snow Child will keep you frozen in its spell until the very last word."―Sarah Willis, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Ivey sets up the two most powerful forces in any story: fear on the one hand, potential for the miraculous on the other."―Susan Salter Reynolds, Newsday
"A magical yet brutally realistic tale."―Karen Holt, O, the Oprah Magazine
"Bewitching."―Meganne Fabrega, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Captivating."―San Francisco Chronicle
"Spellbinding."―Gill Hudson, Reader's Digest
"If Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had collaborated on a book, THE SNOW CHILD would be it. It is a remarkable accomplishment -- a combination of the most delicate, ethereal, fairytale magic and the harsh realities of homesteading in the Alaskan wilderness in 1918. Stunningly conceived, beautifully told, this story has the intricate fragility of a snowflake and the natural honesty of the dirt beneath your feet, the unnerving reality of a dream in the night. It fascinates, it touches the heart. It gallops along even as it takes time to pause at the wonder of life and the world in which we live. And it will stir you up and stay with you for a long, long time."―Robert Goolrick, New York Times bestselling author of A Reliable Wife
"THE SNOW CHILD is enchanting from beginning to end. Ivey breathes life into an old tale and makes it as fresh as the season' s first snow. Simply lovely."―Keith Donohue, New York Times bestselling author of The Stolen Child
About the Author
Eowyn LeMay Ivey was raised in Alaska and continues to live there with her husband and two daughters. She received her BA in journalism and minor in creative writing through the honors program at Western Washington University, studied creative nonfiction at the University of Alaska Anchorage graduate program, and worked for nearly 10 years as an award-winning reporter at the Frontiersman newspaper. This is her first novel.
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Mabel and Jack are homesteaders who come to Alaska rather late in their lives. They are both close to fifty years old when they begin their Alaskan venture near the Wolverine river way in the backcountry. The story opens with Mabel contemplating suicide. She describes Alaska after her failed suicide attempt as a place of "beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all". She and Jack are growing apart rather than closer and she misses him desperately. Slowly, they become friends with their closest neighbors, Esther and George, and this helps Mabel some. However, she says of Jack, "they were going to be partners, she and Jack. This was going to be their new life together. Now he sat laughing with strangers when he hadn't smiled at her in years".
Mabel comes from an intellectual family - her father is a professor of literature at the University of Pennsylvania. She feels lonely and empty in her cabin. Just before they came to Alaska she gave birth to a stillborn boy. This was one of the primary reasons she wanted to get away from her family. She felt they were always looking at her and judging her as wanting, talking about her as not being a strong woman. Jack is busy with clearing and farming the homestead and he won't let Mabel help with this. He sees her job as staying in the house to cook, clean and bake her pies. They are barely making ends meet and Jack is contemplating taking a part-time job in a mine next year. Their situation is dire.
The wilderness is described in an awe-inspiring ferocity of beauty and fear. "Wherever the work stopped, the wilderness was there, older, fiercer, stronger than any man could ever hope to be. The spindly black spruce were so dense in places you couldn't squeeze an arm between them, and every living thing seemed barbed and hostile." "Alaska gave up nothing easily. It was lean and wild and indifferent to a man's struggle." Alaska's beauty is also described wonderfully - the northern lights, the wild animals, the rivers, waterfalls, snowfalls and alpenglow. "Maybe that was how a man held up his end of the bargain, by learning and taking into his heart this strange wilderness - guarded and naked, violent and meek, tremulous in its greatness."
The work is too hard for Jack and Mabel is suffering from cabin fever. One night, however, in a lightness of spirit, they decide to build a snow child. It turns out to be a girl with a lovely face, blond hair, blue eyes and chiseled lovely features. Mabel gives it mittens and a scarf as well. Shortly after building the snow child, they begin to see a child darting in and out of the trees. The snow child they built has disappeared and the child they see running around is wearing the same clothes as their snow child had been given. Is she real or is it a hallucinatory figment of cabin fever and overwork? Mabel and Jack see the child, follow her footprints in the snow and even get to meet her. However, no one else has ever seen her and there is no other family living near them with a girl child. Where has she come from and where does she live?
The story loosely follows the metaphorical fairy tale of The Snow Child, Mabel's favorite story from childhood. However, Mabel is fearful of the story's outcome and does not want to look at the coincidences too closely. The girl they meet is named Faina - Fay-ee-na. They begin to grow close to her and their lives change. "Mabel was no longer sure of the child's age. She seemed both newly born and as old as the mountains, her eyes animated with unspoken thoughts, her face impassive. Here with the child in the trees, all things seemed possible and true."
This is a life-affirming book, one that is close to the heart. It is never silly or maudlin. The writing is rich and lyrical, the characterizations full and complete with each person known and mysterious at the same time. We follow each of them through joys and sorrow. In many ways this is a book of perfection, one that is consummate and incomparable to any other I have ever read. I know it will live on in me and that I will have to re-read it. Thank you Ms. Ivey for bringing me back to Alaska through your eyes. What a wonderful way to see this world.
A little girl seems created out of their own wishes and she changes not only Jack and Mabel, but everything in their little valley. It's a story of sadness, survival, grief and love. it skirts the edges of magic, mystery and historical detail. The audio version is mostly well-performed, though some odd loud intakes of breath are distracting. My biggest complaint of the Kindle (and printed) version is the inconsistent use of quotation marks in a sort of purposeful manipulation of the story...
The fairy tale angle set me up to love this one, but I just didn't... I was ultimately pretty disappointed with it, though I did finish it. I think that a big part of it was my not feeling any sort of connection to any of the characters... I think that it will spark interesting discussion with the book club - and i am definitely interested to see what everyone else thought of it!
"The Snow Child" focuses on one type of story, the fairy-tale, taking an original twist on the literary form through the story related by the author. The story is told from the perspectives of the different characters, not very original, but a good choice for this book that is as much about Alaska and its homesteaders as it is about the Child. Each character has his or her part to play in the story, and each has his or her separate role in the settlers' society. These roles are nicely played because the author moves the reader from character to character which keeps the book from being strictly linear and the reader from finding it to be a bit tedious.
In fact, the author creates a degree of suspense by cutting off the story through her juggling of the characters just as it is about to reach an emotional peak. The characters take their turns based upon the narrative, and not in any particular order. Ms. Ivey doesn't favor one character over another. She makes sure that the right voice is chosen to push the story ahead. It would be thoughtless of me to overlook the exquisite writing of this book, one of those first novels that is certainly written by a hand more practiced than the blurb on the book's cover tries to suggest.
The principal character recalls having been read as a child the story that she has come to live in Alaska. Her story mirrors different versions of the same account, a tale that is probably alive and well in one form or another in all of the world's cultures. What may be the fairy-tale and what may be real life doesn't much matter, except to press the reader not to dismiss from his or her own existence what may appear to be a fairy-tale come to life, and not to take too much to heart the story of hunters and monsters that tends to over-simplify what may be complex on many levels. It makes no difference which is which, except for my spot-on choice of a book to read after "Arcadia".