Just as my local weather became springlike, I dove back into winter with The Snow Child from Eowyn Ivey. Actually, the chilly images are so strong I felt transported. I’d highly recommend reading it during the hottest part of summer, just for the sense of cold and snow.
Mabel and her husband Jack are escaping from sadness by coming to farm in Alaska. Their infant child died, and Mabel found it difficult to cope within their structured environment. So despite their middle age, she and Jack follow adventure to the North. As the story opens, it’s not going well. Mabel hasn’t escaped her crushing sadness. Jack is struggling to support them.
And yet, they begin to settle in to their town, the farm, and the nearby mountains. One night, they unexpectedly feel lighthearted. It’s the first snow and they find themselves behaving like a couple of kids. They build a snow child, give her hat and scarf, and smile on the way to sleep that night.
The morning comes and a young girl with bright blonde hair appears with her fox from the forest. She calls herself Faina. The three reach out tentatively to each other, and Mabel especially becomes entranced in Faina’s oddities and charm. It’s hard for them to trust each other, though.
At first it seems Ivey is creating a world of magical realism, where elements just cannot possibly be real. She certainly has a lyrical writing style, unrolling the plot like a quiet snow angel appearing underneath a child’s brightly colored snowsuit.
Ivey also takes us deep into the psyche of Mabel, and we watch her grow from a society matron to a tough wilderness farmer. Ivey also weaves historical elements into the story, because Mabel and Jack are a product of their early twentieth-century time. Who they are has to adjust to the rigors of Alaska, though. And Faina’s presence pushes the process along.
The story is immersive, like sinking unexpectedly into a waist-high snow drift. It’s soft and slow, even in the places where she describes hard life on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness. It’s much more than an adventurous travelogue. Ultimately, The Snow Child is a story about love, family, and even about parenting. I thoroughly enjoyed it.