Our capacity for the suspension of disbelief is amazing. I was captivated by this retelling of 'The Snow Child' that takes place in the wilds of Alaska during the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have plans to homestead after reaching their fifth decade. Both have desperately wanted children but sadly, Mabel hasn't been able to conceive after losing her first child to a premature birth. They hope Alaska can reinvigorate their lives and their marriage. Unfortunately, the physical demands required to clear the land for farming seem too much for an aging Jack. It's beginning to look like Jack's only option to earn money to support himself and his wife when, late in October, following the first snowfall, the couple are captivated by the joy of the season, throw snowballs and build a snowman. They add hair made of straw and Jack carves a face and dress which turns their snowman to a snow girl. The next morning, the mitts and hat they used to clothe their snow child are gone. In their place are footprints that leave the spot of their disappearance without complementary ones leading to it. Not being a fan of fantasy literature, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. Even as the ending becomes obvious, I found myself still reading, still wondering what's going to happen next. Ms. Ivey's descriptions of Alaska capture its ruggedness and closeness to nature. Her characterizations of pioneers totally dependent on the largess of their neighbours realistic and uplifting. Well worth the read.
on July 17, 2013
It’s no secret that I’m an avid reader of folktales. At home, my shelves are full of new and old versions of Brothers Grimm and countless anthologies of Irish and English tales. So when I heard about “The Snow Child,” I knew that this was a book I had to read. What makes Eowyn Ivey’s “The Snow Child” charming is its ability to retain the old world feel of a classic fairy story while also connecting her characters and setting to a modern reality.
Everything about “The Snow Child” is exciting and magical, particularly because it is set in the Alaskan wilderness of the 1920’s. Ivey captures the landscape perfectly with her precise yet delicate prose and despite the bleak setting, the world that she draws readers into is magical. Magic is everywhere in this story: in the first snowfall, in the animals who visit Jack and Mabel and in the people that they meet. Although the basis for this story is built around a Russian fairytale, Ivey does an excellent job of leading the reader into the magic of the story gradually. For most of the book I found myself wondering whether Faina, the snow child, was truly magical or whether Jack and Mabel were in fact going crazy. The subtlety in which Ivey introduces us to Faina and her strange existence creates a sort of mystery that beguiles the reader and keeps them wanting to know the truth.
While I am not usually drawn to tragic stories—and this one has an element of tragedy that is apparent from the beginning—Ivey drew me in regardless with her knack for creating whimsy. When we first meet Jack and Mabel, their farm is failing, they are starving and it seems as though there is no hope for them in the wilderness. As we grow to learn more about Faina alongside Jack and Mabel, it becomes clear that the true magic lies in the connections that are made between the friends and families that are created as a result of Faina’s appearance. In particular, the characters in this piece are well rounded and interesting to read about. Jack and Mabel’s neighbors are quirky and realistic, which goes a long way to lighten the occasional somber patch of plot.
Apart from creating a unique approach to a modern fairytale, Ivey has a unique stylistic approach to signal to the reader that something magical is afoot: each time that Faina appears in a scene she loses the quotation marks, which gives the narrative a dream-like quality. Perhaps this was meant to create a contrast between the magic that Faina brings when she appears and the reality that exists when she is gone. In any case, I think it is an inventive way to signal a shift in tone for readers to keep the flow of the narrative well paced. As I have mentioned before, even though early in the story readers are aware that something tragic is going to happen, Ivey does a good job of creating suspense. We are left wondering when will it happen? How? Thanks to a few well-placed discussions between characters, we begin to wonder if the event will happen at all.
Sometimes, re-writes are criticized for borrowing too heavily from their sources and not adding enough “flair” to the story that they are trying to re-tell. Over the years, I have read many stories that seem more like an unfortunate bout of deja-vu, but “The Snow Child” is not one of them. Where other re-tellings may leave something to be desired, Eowyn Ivey cultivates mystery and tragedy and in the process achieves a new kind of fairytale that is as unique as a snowflake, with prose that sparkles.
on November 3, 2013
Based on the Russian fairytale, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey begins as a deceptively simple tale, but becomes more complex and compelling as the novel progresses. Mabel and Jack, homesteaders in the Alaskan wilderness, see a child flitting through the forest. Believing at first that she can’t possibly be real, that what they see is some other forest creature, Mabel and Jack eventually entice her into their cabin and into their lives. The girl is linked to winter, joining Mabel and Jack during the winters, leaving again every spring for the snow-covered mountains … until she becomes tied to their homestead by love. Is she the child of the fairy tale, conjured by Mabel and Jack’s own deep desire for a child and their impulsive and joyous act of building a snow child during the first snowfall – or an orphan left alone to survive in a beautiful but unforgiving wilderness? And what happens when one tries to capture and hold onto what is beautiful but ephemeral? There are no simple answers, even to the end of the novel, which leaves the reader lingering over the ending and contemplating meaning long after you’ve read the last page. A highly readable novel and a compelling one.
on July 12, 2014
A very moving reprise of a Russian folk tale, told with sensitivity, significant insight, and good old fashioned story telling. The snow child is a fantasy, or is she. A couples love and longing make it a possibility as they adjust to homesteading in the Alaska wilderness of the early 1900s. Written so well that you want it to be true.
on January 28, 2013
I wasn't sure what to expect and went into this with an open mind. I am glad to have read this book. You have the realities of Alaska's harsh climate (in the 20s) and the struggles of a long married couple, wonderful friendships and bonds, plus a little bit of 'magic'.