The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey shocked me. It was slow getting into it originally which made me suspect I might not enjoy it much. But I did. It is a sweeping tale of wilderness, nature, coping with sorrow and grief, love, books, and fairy tales.
Set in the Alaskan wilds, the story begins in the early 1920s. Mabel and Jack are an older couple who are struggling through a tragedy that happened some years ago making them flee their comfortable home and all their family in Pennsylvania and move to Alaska for a fresh start. They couldn’t have children.With that sorrow and the additional burden of trying to make a living in this harsh and unforgiving wilderness has caused them to drift apart. Each of them trying their best individually, Mabel baking and keeping house, Jack struggling to clear land for fields.
I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that Mabel actually tries to drown herself within the first couple of chapters. Overcome with grief and the assurance that she is failing her husband, she plunges through trees and brambles engulfing their lonely farm until she reaches the river. It hasn’t properly snowed yet. It is just dark and bitterly cold. The rushing, raging river definitely hasn’t frozen enough to be safe. Step by step she makes her way out onto the slick ice. Groaning, creaking. Each step, surely this will be the one. A horrifying cracking snap! And then black, frigid water.
But, somehow, that glassy surface holds. Making her way clear across to the rocky cliff on the opposite side, Mabel realizes how much she still wants to live. A terrifying journey back across that now seemingly endless river. Back home in time to make dinner and make sure Jack knows nothing about it.
A couple days later, the first proper snowfall arrives. Big, fluffy, damp flakes swirling and floating down. A beautiful snow splendid enough to make Mabel recall her childhood and instigate a snowball fight with Jack. It takes him a moment to realize what is happening, it had been such a horridly exhausting day working at pulling stumps out of the fields. Then the next moment they’re pelting snowballs back and forth until they are both chilled and thoroughly damp. But just before they retreat into the warmth of their cabin, Mabel asks Jack to help her make a snowman. Or rather, a little snow girl.
The next morning, the snow child has been destroyed and the beautiful mittens and scarf are gone! And there are only footprints heading away from the little figure.
Has the snow girl come to life? Or is it a real child suddenly running about the forest with a pet red fox in tow?
This story is heartbreakingly stunning. It is laden with hints at the rapid and unavoidable transience of existence. However, rather than dwelling miserably on these fleeting minutes, there is a determination to grasp with both hands every gorgeous and precious moment and relish in the terrible beauty of this thing we call life.
After reading this, I am more determined than ever to cling to and strive as hard as I might towards my dream of having a small cottage on a little farm. Of Micah and I both working from home and not wasting most of our lives depending on the time and schedule of bosses who care for nothing more than what they can get out of you. A small house that we can turn into a cozy home for ourselves and, hopefully, one day our children.
The Snow Child is a beautiful story that made me laugh and weep. I now want to visit Alaska even more than I already did. This book does have dark moments. They almost give up and have to leave the farm they’ve worked so bitterly hard for. Jack is injured and Mabel knows she can’t do it by herself. Then their kind and generous neighbors swoop in to help them out and the farm is able to prosper a bit for once. Garden and crops planted. Wood chopped and fields cleared. And all throughout, their mysterious wild forest girl who brings them the joy of a daughter in their old age.
If you can withstand a bit of melancholy, struggling, and bittersweet endings, then I heartily recommend this story!
p.s. i was supposed to write my weekly to-do list post today, but i realized i forgot to send the written post from my work computer to my email so that post will go live tomorrow and you get a book review today!