Book Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

During my two-week family vacation in Texas, where we zig-zagged across the Lone Star State, driving from Houston, to Dallas, Austin, and then back to Houston again, I managed to stop and visit the local library to pick up some good reads that weren’t related to my work as an agent. I picked up a book in the featured fiction section based partially on the cover and the cover copy.  I was intrigued.  This book seemed like easy reading and I was hooked after gleaning the first several pages of the story.  And maybe it had something to do with the 80-degree weather outside, but The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, just looked cool and refreshing, if not a little bit magical.

I read the The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, in less than 48 hours.  It was one of those books that you can’t put down and constantly think of when you have to put down.  It’s difficult to describe the book, it seems part allegory, part realist adventure, with dashes of magical realism thrown in.  The story revolves around a child-less couple, who, one night, carves a snow girl in the Alaskan wilderness.  The next day, a small almost elfin girl, is seen flitting through the woods with the very mittens and scarf that had adorned the snow girl the night before.  What enfolds during the story, is an intimate portrait of a marriage, individual longing for a child, and the meaning of family. Of course, that’s not as eloquent as the cover copy:

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I have a feeling NY is going to see a lot of this soon…
Credit: Moscow Daily Photo

“Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.”–Cover Copy from The Snow Child

At times, I felt like I was reading Henry James’s Turn of the Screw–is the narrator reliable or unreliable?  Here, there were two narrators.  The book alternated between the husband’s perspective and the wife’s perspective.  This way of writing can at times seem like a gimmick, but with Eowyn Ivey’s prose, the transitions were smooth and realistic.  There was an undertone of sadness in the book that immediately appealed to my melancholy side.  I also think that, being a mother myself, heightened my awareness and made it all the more poignant, the relationship between mother and child.

What I also loved about the book was the great sense of place.  Adventure writers whom I love, like Jon Krakauer, are able to achieve this immediate sense of place that transports you to the scene of the story.  I’ve never been to the great wilderness that is Alaska, but I was transported there by Eowyn’s fine and crisp prose.  I was really impressed by how the prose was never overly-flowery when dealing with such a fantastic subject.  A lot of debut writers tend to ‘over-write.’  That was definitely not the case here.

Oh, did I mention that this is Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel?  And that it was recently short-listed for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize? All the more impressive, I’m in love, and I’m just a teensy bit jealous of the fine folks at Folio Literary who helped bring this book to market (Jeff Kleinman represents Eowyn).

It was strange to read the book when outside it was in the 80’s but this is the perfect read for Fall/ Winter.  Curl up with a hot cocoa and let The Snow Child take you into the Alaskan Wilderness.

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