The best thing about The Snow Child—what sets it apart from genre fiction and keeps you reading—is the way Ivey declines to lay her cards on the table. Are we dealing with fantasy or reality here?... She is a careful, matter-of-fact writer, who, thankfully, doesn't resort to unnecessary poetics or artificial ratcheting-up of tension. This leaves your imagination free to hare off down as many trails as you like.
Carrie O'Grady - Guardian (UK)
Here's a modern retelling of the Russian fairy tale about a girl, made from snow by a childless couple, who comes to life. Or perhaps not modern—the setting is 1920s Alaska—but that only proves the timelessness of the tale and of this lovely book. Unable to start a family, middle-aged Jack and Mabel have come to the wilderness to start over, leaving behind an easier life back east. Anxious that they won't outlast one wretched winter, they distract themselves by building a snow girl and wrap her in a scarf. The snow girl and the scarf are gone the next morning, but Jack spies a real child in the woods. Soon Jack and Mabel have developed a tentative relationship with the free-spirited Faina, as she finally admits to being called. Is she indeed a "snow fairy," a "wilderness pixie" magicked out of the cold? Or a wild child who knows better than anyone how to survive in the rugged north? Even as Faina embodies a natural order that cannot be tamed, the neighborly George and Esther show Jack and Mabel (and the rest of us) how important community is for survival. Verdict: A fluid, absorbing, beautifully executed debut novel; highly recommended. —Barbara Hoffert
A couple struggling to settle in the Alaskan wilderness is heartened by the arrival of the child of their dreams—or are they literally dreaming her? Jack and Mabel, the protagonists of Ivey's assured debut, are a couple in their early 50s who take advantage of cheap land to build a homestead in Alaska in the 1920s. But the work is backbreaking, the winters are brutally cold and their isolation only reminds them of their childlessness. There's a glimmer of sunshine, however, in the presence of a mysterious girl who lurks near their cabin. Though she's initially skittish, in time she becomes a fixture in the couple's lives. Ivey takes her time in clarifying whether or not the girl, Faina, is real or not, and there are good reasons to believe she's a figment of Jack and Mabel's imaginations: She's a conveniently helpful good-luck charm for them in their search for food, none of their neighbors seem to have seen the girl and she can't help but remind Mabel of fairy tales she heard in her youth about a snow child. The mystery of Faina's provenance, along with the way she brightens the couple's lives, gives the novel's early chapters a slightly magical-realist cast. Yet as Faina's identity grows clearer, the narrative also becomes a more earthbound portrait of the Alaskan wilderness and a study of the hard work involved in building a family. Ivey's style is spare and straightforward, in keeping with the novel's setting, and she offers enough granular detail about hunting and farming to avoid familiar pieties about the Last Frontier. The book's tone throughout has a lovely push and pull—Alaska's punishing landscape and rough-hewn residents pitted against Faina's charmed appearances—and the ending is both surprising and earned. A fine first novel that enlivens familiar themes of parenthood and battles against nature.
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