My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Basically, this is a book about a couple coming to terms with their old age.
No no, just kidding.
The Snow Child is an especially evocative, lyrical and beatific book, encased in winter and sadness. It’s a slow, captivating story about an old, childless couple, as most of them are.
Jack and Mabel grow old, get tired of life and family, move to Alaska for a new beginning. But life is a bitch and it is hard for them here. Their dreams of working their own fields, side by side, being rather unrealistic remain just that. Separated from their background and growing apart day by day from each other, they live on in their silent, isolated worlds. Even after decades of marriage, their love is marred, by a deep scar that drove them away from their fulfilling life early on: the dead body of their first and only child.
As the book starts, Mabel is contemplating committing suicide and the simple, honest devastation of hers for the little things she can’t have wrenches the heart. On the other hand is Jack, unable and not wanting to share the weight of all responsibilities weighing them down. In the beginning, Mabel seems an enervated and solitary creature, whereas Jack comes across as hardy and focused. But gradually, there is a change of perspective and bit by bit, Mabel grows desperate, content and fearful, before ultimately coming to terms with it all. Jack, on the other hand, faces these emotions in reverse.
I hold especial awe for this bittersweet relationship, how it sometimes takes years and years and your final days to build a long-lasting firmament. Jack and Mabel love each other, that they know. But does that really mean they’re close or happy with each other? Or do they need a snow child to carve out their happiness from the ice?
One day, in a rare moment of elation, Jack and Mabel make a child out of snow and give it mittens and clothes. The next day, they discover small footsteps, vanished clothes, and a while later, they find a magical little girl who stays for the winter and could never be their own, but was as much of a family as one could be.
Apart from the spot-on depiction of the grief and desolation of the couple, the author also manages to capture their hope and fears. There is a quiet, melancholic and surreal quality about the prose. The writing style is such that at every point in the story, it isn’t lost on you that this book is about magic of hope and making your own endings, be they sad or happy. It’s sad throughout and this particular virtue gives the story an almost magical feel. Even as they scenes play out, it’s as if they didn’t and it was a dream. Yeah, this book reads like a dream and feathers.
I suppose I have an infinitesimal problem with the ending. This story is a retelling of the Russian folktale, in every version of which the snow child goes away or dies.
Mayhap, it was that they loved her too much, or too little. Sometimes, she falls in love and stays the summer, or strays too near a fire. she tries to be a human and she doesn’t get to be shit.
Ivey’s version covers all these bases and well, I can’t reveal if she stays on or not. My iffy is that it doesn’t fade like winter is supposed to and that’s where my expectations lay. A bit slow, a bit chilly, and a helluva delicate.
But I personally felt it was abrupt and lost some of its charm. Well, I guess global warming had a hold on the Alaskan wilderness in the 1920’s, too.
All in all, though, it was a fresh and captivating read about family, love and the power of sacrifices, that they may prove futile sometimes but even then, there’s something to them, to giving away for your loved ones that will get you a moment or tow of happiness.