Margaret Murray's Reviews > The Snow Child

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
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it was amazing
Recommended for: Anyone who loves to read when it's snowing

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey pulls you into a fairy tale like no other. The novel begins as Mabel looks out on the barren lonely, raw and austere wilds of Alaska in the 1920s where she’s just come with her husband, Jack. Even at their advanced age, they want to leave their old lives in Pennsylvania behind and start over, have a new life. Mabel is an artist in her own right.
There’s a feeling of mystery and magic from the first sentence. “Mabel had known there would be silence. That was the point of it all.” She had imagined the silence to be peaceful but no, it shrieks with the cries of the stillborn child she and Jack had lost many years before, a child that haunts her still.
As she walks to the frozen Wolverine River close by their meager homestead, Mabel contemplates suicide, seeing herself as a barren, old woman, a burden to her husband. She tempts herself by crossing the ice, imagining falling through. The challenge of making it across empowers her. She nearly laughs when she reaches the opposite shore.
Having made it across the river, Mabel suddenly sees the wilderness for what it is, full of a beauty that “ripped you open and scoured you clean so you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all.” As a reader, I felt that too and on every page.
Minimal conversation between Jack and Mabel reveal them trying desperately to get through the winter. Jack, on his way to town with a wagon of Mabel’s pies, calculate they had money for one more winter but only if Mabel could keep selling her pies. His only other alternative is to work in a hellhole of a mine up north, and he almost an old man.
The snow doesn’t come although it’s 25 below zero and daylight lasts only six hours. When Jack spies a red fox, his neck prickles and he thinks someone is watching him. They meet their neighbors, George and Esther Benson and their youngest boy, Garrett. Jack needs help badly and George offers it. Esther welcomes Mabel with her huge, open arms. Uplifted by her new friend, one who would not herself worry with decorum, Mabel remembers falling in love with Jack and the dreams that she could fly.
Now comes the first snow. In a rare spirit of playfulness, Mabel suggests it they make a snow child, a girl. She’s remembering a fairy tale in a book her father read to her as a child, a fairytale that haunted her.
Spellbound, full of unpredictable childish desire, Mabel begins throwing snowballs to Jack and soon, miraculously they are laughing, chasing each other just like in the fairytale. Mabel gasps at the child’s face that Jack carves in the snow. They fit mittens and a scarf on her head and add wild yellow grass for hair and later, that night as the snow continues to fall, they make love, finding each other and fitting together "like creases in an old map". The very next day Jack sees a flicker of a blue and white coat through the trees.
The snow girl they had made the night is a heap on the ground. The mittens and scarf are gone and footprints lead away into the woods. Jack begins to follow them. Faina turns out to be a real girl, abandoned and orphaned, living high up on the mountain with her red fox.
So much unnamable and brutal is revealed. It is all too close--the silence, the beauty, the ravaging artic winter, the killing of animals, the brutal stalking of the boy Garrett with his ruthless innocence and desire for a beautiful girl he refuses to believe exists.
I was enthralled, intrigued and amazed by this seamless, nearly perfect first novel of Eowyn Ivey. I yearned for the aging homesteading couple to have their child, even one made of snow. Taking on the solitary dark heart of innocence like Mabel and Jack, I’d do anything to keep the fairy tale girl, this beautiful wild animal who can trap a wolverine and thrive in the Alaskan winters, a spirit with wet mittens who can wrestle a swan and win.
Still I had to stop reading The Snow Child after awhile. It felt like refusing to look as your beloved dog is put down in your arms. I think it was the thin red fox “with narrow golden eyes like a cat” on the book’s cover. I became the fox, hiding and watching on behalf of the girl. I became her familiar too.
I promised myself that take up The Snow Child again when I ready to face losing the fox.
It was the fairytale itself that pulled me back in, written as elegant and quiet as snow falling on a frozen deep river. Ivey’s cadenced details and simple sentences match perfectly the rare wild world of primeval Alaska where even silence is unimaginable. Mabel heard it and you’ll hear it too.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 20, 2013 – Shelved

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