Nothing is more fascinating than a peek into the bonds that tie one person to another. As perverse as it seems, it is both the misfortunes and joys of human relations that forms the basis of what makes for great reading. It allows us, for a brief moment, to escape from ourselves into someone else’s problems.
There is nothing particularly exciting or new about Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, and yet, from the start, the reader is drawn to this simple story of an elderly and childless couple, scraping by to survive the harshness of Alasdka in the 1920s.
When we open the book, Mabel and her husband, Jack, are eking out a living on their small farm in the midst of winter. They have consciously decided to escape the social stigma of being a childless couple. Away from prying eyes, they envelope themselves in the coldness and silence of Alaska, in the hopes of making a fresh start in this new world. The desolation of their new home highlights the stark emptiness of their own marriage. Slowly, we see the threads that bind them start to unravel.
Their misery echoes with the reader and one is tempted more than once to put the book down. As Eowyn writes
“November was here…it brought cold upon the valley like a coming death, glacial wind through the cracks between the cabin logs. But most of all, darkness. Darkness so complete even the pale-lit hours would be choked.”
Before we readers give up completely, though, the author introduces us to Esther and George, and their three sons; another Alaskan pioneer family. The threads of a new and lasting friendship are woven. The plain-speaking, no-fuss Esther, the very opposite of Mabel, is exactly what Mabel needs to survive the Alaskan winters.
The first snow of the season brings someone else into Mabel and Jack’s lives as well Faina. However, we are not entirely certain if she is real, or a figment of Mabel’s imagination; perhaps, a manifestation of one of Mabel’s childhood fairy tales.
“A child slight and quick in a blue coat, passing through the trees. A blink, and the little coat was gone and there was slinking fur, and it was like the flipping black-and-white pictures she had seen in a coin-operated illuminated box in New York City. Appearing and disappearing motion, child and woodland creature each a passing flicker.”
Whether real or not, it is Faina that slowly mends the tears in this old couple’s marriage. Although desperate to shower Faina with parental love, Mabel and Jack must question their concepts of love. Each must learn to love within the boundaries of the other’s limitations.
Can Mabel and Jack raise this child with her best interest at heart, or will they cave to convention? Can Faina suppress her need to be wild and free, and live instead by the laws of society? Must there always be a clear-cut answer? Or is it possible to be a family without all the shackles that conventions impose on us?
It is through our search for answers to these questions that we understand Eowyn Ivey’s message: love with all your heart and let go, knowing that you are not meant to posses.
All in all, though it is neither thought-provoking, nor refreshingly original, it is a beautifully written book. Eowyn’s poetic descriptions resonate with the reader throughout the book. For anyone who has ever wondered what it means to love and anyone who has an appreciation of language, this book is a treat!
About the author:
Eowyn LeMay Ivey was raised in Alaska and continues to live there with her husband and two daughters. She worked as an award winning reporter on the Alaskan newspaper ‘The Frontiersmen’ and is also a bookseller at “Fireside Books” in Palmer, Alaska. This is her first novel.