This blog post will be devoted to my expression of my thoughts upon reading the magnificent ‘The Snow Child’, by Eowyn LeMay Ivey, of Alaska. This novel, Ms. Ivey’s debut, is responsible for reducing me to tears on no fewer than three occasions yesterday, and, at one point, I was forced to close the book for a few minutes in order to regain my composure before continuing.
That’s only ever happened to me twice before. And I’ve read a lot of books (a lot) over the course of a long and misspent reading career. So, I hope you can get a sense of the enormity of the situation.
This book is like a dream – not the kind of dream where you wake up in a cold sweat, or feel like you’re falling from a height, or some such – but the sort of dream that leaves you feeling golden and perfect for a few fleeting moments as you’re waking up. Those sort of feelings are precious and rare, and I’d say the same about this book. Books like this don’t come along every day, and when they do, people need to be told about it. The story is perfect – it has one foot in the otherworld, and one in the very harsh reality of frontier life in Alaska. I swear I looked up at one point during the reading of this masterpiece and convinced myself I saw a blizzard beating at my window and a wolverine peering in at me – and the closest I’ve ever come to the part of the world where this book is set is eating a baked Alaska, many years ago. I’m not exactly an outdoorswoman. Nonetheless, I could feel every privation of Jack and Mabel’s life, and I shared in their triumph as they gradually carved a home out of the forest. I mourned their losses alongside them, and I wept with them for what they’d left behind ‘back East’. I felt their wonder, their growing hope, their terror, and their love for the strange, beautiful child that appears out of the relentless whiteness one day. I barely had a nerve left by the end of it.
This book is so real because Eowyn Ivey is writing about a life she knows intimately – it is the life she lives every day. This is a lady who hunts her own meat, who hauls her own water, and who lives (in part) off the land. Not only am I in awe of her talent in writing this book, I’m also in serious ‘lifestyle awe’, and I’m not afraid to admit it. It’s not only the descriptions of the landscape and lifestyle that amaze, though – it’s the seamless interweaving of the Russian folktale ‘Snegurochka’ with the body of the story of Jack and Mabel, the use of dialogue, even the masterful use of punctuation in certain scenes. It’s the creation of characters like Esther and George, who live near Mabel and Jack and with whose lives they become intertwined, and who are so full-blooded that they practically walk off the page and start making themselves at home in your kitchen. It’s in the scenes where Jack gets injured on the land, and every ache and jolt of agony shoots through your own body as you read. I didn’t want to finish this book, because I wanted to try to keep the silvery magic of it alive for as long as possible – but, of course, my curiosity won out, and I had to say goodbye to these wonderful characters. I miss them terribly.
So, my point is this: I’m a broken woman, emotionally, today. This book is like a snowflake sitting on my mitten – the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and a source of pure joy, but just as the snowflake has to melt, so this feeling will pass, I’m sure. But while the initial magic will wear off, I know all I have to do is open this book again, and I can have as many snowflakes as I want.
And isn’t that the most marvellous thing of all?