Light on Snow Paperback – Sep 12 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
An after-school stroll leads to a life-altering event for widower Robert Dillon and his 12-year-old daughter, Nicky, in this delicate new novel by acclaimed author Shreve (All He Ever Wanted,etc.). In the woods surrounding their secluded home in Shepherd, N.H., Robert and Nicky make a startling discovery—a baby abandoned and left to die in the snow. The infant survives, but the incident leaves its mark. Still recovering from the painful loss of her mother and infant sister two years earlier, and readjusting to the shock of a sudden move from suburban Westchester to rural Shepherd, Nicky struggles to reconcile her innocent notions of adult integrity with the bleak reality of their discovery. The tenuous sense of normalcy Robert manages to sustain is broken with the appearance of Charlotte, the baby's young mother, on his doorstep. Retold 18 years later by an adult Nicky but written in the present tense, the story shifts brilliantly between childlike visions of a simple world and the growing realization of its cruel ambiguities. Aside from a few saccharine moments and a rather pat ending, Shreve does a skilled job of portraying grief, conflict and anger while leaving room for hope, redemption and renewal. Her characters are sympathetic without being pitiable, and her prose remains deceptively simple and eloquent throughout.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The prolific Shreve has been a fixture on best-seller lists ever since Oprah picked The Pilot's Wife (1998) as one of her book-club selections. In her latest, Robert Dillon and his 12-year-old daughter, Nicky, discover a newborn baby abandoned in the snowy woods. As they rush the baby to the hospital, Nicky senses that the vulnerable infant has somehow unleashed her and her father's private demons. Nicky lost her mother and baby sister in an automobile accident more than a year earlier; her father's response to his overwhelming grief was to uproot them from their life in New York and move to rural New Hampshire. He has purposefully isolated himself from the outside world, keeping contact with other people to a minimum. But now the abandoned baby has forced them to act, and the two are suddenly plunged into dealing with the world-weary detective who catches the case and, later, with the distraught mother of the baby, who ends up snowbound in their house for days. Her presence forces Nicky and her father to move beyond their personal tragedy. Although Shreve continually underlines her characters' grief and desperation, their emotions seem too neat and their responses somewhat formulaic. Nevertheless, Shreve's expert pacing produces a fast read that will more than satisfy her many fans. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Nicky Dillon, now thirty, is the narrator. She reminisces back to the time she was twelve, living alone with her dad in an isolated house in the woods, just outside the town of Shepherd, NH. On a December day, near Christmastime, Robert Dillon's wife, Nicky's mother, and her baby sister, Clara, were killed in a car crash. Dillon chose Shepherd at random on his drive north with his remaining daughter, from their former home in Westchester, NY, because he could not drive on any longer. His goal was to remove himself as far as possible from society - to find a quiet place with no memories to bury his grief. Nicky, who was in terrible pain also, was faced with leaving the only home she had ever known, her friends and school, stability.
Two years later, on a cold, wintery afternoon in mid-December, Nicky and her father go for their usual late afternoon walk in the forest. The snowfall is heavy enough to make snowshoes necessary. Deep in the woods they find a newborn infant, abandoned in the snow, lying in a sleeping bag. She is wrapped in a bloody towel, umbilical cord still attached. If they had arrived at the scene a little later, the baby girl would have froze to death. Racing to the hospital they are in time to save the child. Both father and daughter are questioned by a very shrewd detective, and the police begin a search for the parents who could be charged with attempted murder, child abandonment and cruelty. Nicky, who has had to mourn alone for two years, desperately wants the baby to live with them. She wants to learn about the mother and what made her abandon her child. How could a woman make such a terrible choice?
There is a fascinating mystery here, but the novel's strength lies in the development of the characters. Twelve-year-old Nicky, on the cusp of young womanhood, is strong and very mature for her age. Perhaps it is the resilience of youth which gives her courage. She is the caretaker, the one who watches out for her father, a former architect who now takes solace in carpentry. Robert Dillon is narcissistic in his grief. By isolating himself, he forces isolation and loneliness on his daughter. Interspersed throughout the narrative are poignant memories of life with Nicky's mother and sister. Her mother will always remain young in Nicky's mind, while her sister grows up, just as she would if she were alive. At one point Nicky speaks of the small cast of characters with whom she frequently communicates - whose lives she remembers daily. "There are four of them in my little playlet: my mother who remains the same age she was when she died and who gives me bits of advice on how to handle my father; Clara, who is three and who is getting a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas; Charlotte, who will do my hair and shop with me for clothes and be my friend; and also the Baby Doris, who might be having a bottle now. Or a nap."
There is an air of listlessness, hopelessness, throughout much of the novel. But this adds to the credibility. The mood lightens eventually as outside events force change. Ms Shreve's descriptions of small town New England, many of the novel's secondary characters, and the gorgeous frozen winter landscapes are rich and detailed. "Light On Snow" is different from Anita Shreve's other novels in that it is primarily character driven. It is a very good book and I do recommend it.
Because of her youth, Nicky is quicker to recover, awakening after the long months of grief to find that her father simply cannot shake the depression that weighs upon him. He is barely functioning, turning out simple furniture that provides them with a meager income. They establish a few new routines, afternoon walks and make mostly unsuccessful attempts to engage as a family, albeit a broken one.
It is on one of their late afternoon walks through the darkening countryside buried in new snow, that they first hear whimpering. Finally locating the source of the cries, father and daughter discover a newborn baby, abandoned soon after its birth. After a harrowing ride to the hospital, the baby survives and the Dillon's return home, both in awe of what they have just accomplished. But while Robert ponders the kind of mother who could abandon her child, Nicky is harboring dreams of a changed family dynamic, one that includes the new baby. Robert disabuses Nicky of this idea, but a spark of rebellion has taken root in her soul.
When the baby's mother shows up on their doorstep, both father and daughter are uncomfortable, but before she can leave, Charlotte faints, still weakened by the recent birth. With a terrible storm descending upon their home, the Dillon's give shelter to the young woman. With a confused and desperate Charlotte under their roof, Robert and Nicky are confronted with the personal difficulty of making judgments of others. And Nicky is drawn to the slightly older Charlotte, seeking comfort in the womanly attentions she has not experienced since her mother's death.
Loss has taken a terrible toll on the Dillon family, but when Charlotte enters their lives, she brings a new awareness, challenging their complacency and willingness to bow to the grief that has so dominated their lives. In this small, deceptively simple story, Shreve addresses the important themes and critical choices that affect the three protagonists of Light on Snow. This intricate domestic drama is essentially a morality play; at the core of the novel is a simple theme of forgiveness and redemption. Luan Gaines/2004.
Days later as a snow storm is approaching, the mother of the baby comes to their home under the false pretense of looking for furniture, which Roberts makes in his barn. She eventually admits the truth about who she is, but by then it is too late for her to leave and Robert must make the decision of whether or not to turn her in to the authorities. He does not want anything to do with her but as they are faced with time alone, she tells him her side of story and his thoughts and feelings about her begin to change.
Light On Snow is a very haunting story about the decisions we make and what consequences those decisions make on us, and others. The writing is simple to read for being such a complex story. This is the perfect book to curl up and read on a cold winters day.
Twelve-year-old Nicky Dillon (short for Nicole) and her father, Robert, are snowshoeing along on a walk in the woods when they find an abandoned baby in the snow, a girl. They rush her to the hospital, and her life is saved. But the major emotional event of the story has occurred before the book even begins, for Nicky and Robert are outsiders both by virtue of their location (the farmhouse they live in is at the end of a long, badly rutted road) and because of the car accident that killed Nicky's mother and her baby sister, Clara, three years ago. In a series of flashbacks, we become acquainted with the family, before and after. One day Nicky was a normal kid in Westchester; the next, she was moving with this grim, silent man to an old New Hampshire farmhouse.
The symmetry is inescapable --- one child lost; another rescued --- and it is not lost on Nicky. She mourns partly through fantasy, imagining what Clara would be like if she were still growing; she also pictures what would happen if she and her father adopted the baby they found in the snow. Robert, however, remains almost unreachable in his grief: "[It] has no texture now --- no tears, no ache in the throat, no rage," Nicky observes, watching him in his workshop in the barn (a former architect, he makes limited-edition furniture). "It is simply darkness, I think, a cloak that sometimes makes it hard for him to breathe."
Nicky is very much on her own; except for Christmas, when her grandmother comes to take care of them for a few days, she accepts that she must be the one who remembers to buy food or reminds her father to shave and wash his hair. At the same time, she yearns not only for her mother and sister, but also for a sense of normality: They have no TV, they don't read newspapers; they eat in the den, on trays; people rarely come to the house. Nicky goes to school, reads, knits and makes bead jewelry, and works on the mural of mountains that she is painting on her bedroom wall. She is an entrancing character, weirdly grown-up, yet also a kid who wants Drake's cakes, Ring Dings, 20 colors of nail polish --- and a woman to confide in.
Enter Charlotte, a young woman who comes to the house claiming to be a customer for Robert's furniture but who soon confesses that she is the mother of the baby they found --- she has read about the rescue in the newspaper and is desperate for news of her daughter. A blizzard traps Charlotte in the house, and gradually we learn the truth behind the horrifying discovery in the snow. In this respect, the book is a bit of a suspense novel, an imaginative reconstruction of what might lie behind those lurid newspaper headlines about teenagers dumping their unwanted infants in the garbage. Shreve maintains the tension well, making us curious to know the exact nature of the parallel tragedies that afflicted Charlotte and the Dillon family, letting out the answers a little at a time.
But it is on a deeper level that the book really succeeds. With Charlotte's presence in the Dillon house, we see Nicky's profound hunger for a friend. Although Charlotte is nearly as crushed by despair and regret as Robert, she is also younger and more resilient, and she responds to Nicky's obvious need. Emotional possibilities open up: "My father and I are technically a family," Nicky muses, "but it's a word neither of us would ever use. Yes, we are father and daughter, but because we were once members of a family that was torn apart, we think of ourselves now as half a family or a shadow family. As we sit there with our trays on our laps, however, I feel, or perhaps only imagine, a 'family' consisting of my father, Charlotte, and me." Perhaps it is only when a family is destroyed and must rebuild itself that we become aware of what it means to have one.
Shreve is a prolific writer and an impressively consistent one: Her popular books (THE PILOT'S WIFE was an Oprah Book Club selection) are very, very good, compulsively readable, and full of characters who have real quality and dimension. I believed wholeheartedly in Nicky; her strange, damaged, oddly endearing father; Detective Warren, the kind, relentless policeman who is trying to find out who abandoned the baby, and why; and Charlotte, with her aching, guilty heart and stubborn decency.
Complaints? Not many. The plot of LIGHT ON SNOW may be just a tad too neatly contrived and executed. Rather than that sense of absolute inevitability you get with great books, you feel the author's strategic hand at work. And although Shreve has Nicky narrating the story from the vantage point of a 30-year-old --- I suppose in order to allow her to impose a more mature vocabulary and sensibility on the memories of a girl of 12 --- she never follows up on her young heroine's adult life. I found myself disappointed not to get even a hint of Nicky's future, but perhaps that would have been too predictable an ending.
Besides, isn't it a fine compliment to say that a novel leaves you wanting more?
--- Reviewed by Kathy Weissman