The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey tells the story of Mabel and Jack, a couple who live on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness. The spark has gone out of their marriage and their lives. Mabel keeps indoors in their small cabin, mending and cooking and finding little joy in life. She was the one who convinced her husband to move to this wilderness as she wants to be away from people and the memory of the child she lost at birth. One winter’s evening she goes out on the frozen river, hoping for the ice to crack and her misery to be over. But it holds and so her sorrow continues.
Jack is breaking his body trying to clear their land to plant crops. It is work for a young man and if he doesn’t succeed it will ruin them. He works on, knowing his wife is unhappy but he barely has enough energy to stay awake through the evening meal.
All this takes place in the freezing cold Alaskan wilderness in the 1920s, home to bears, foxes, wolves and other wild creatures. One night it snows. Taken in by the sight, Mabel goes out into the yard and seeing her husband throws a snow ball at him. They find a moment of light in their otherwise bleak lives. And carried away with the emotion, Mabel asks her husband to help her make a snowman.
They create the figure of a girl out of snow. The next morning the figure is gone – footprints leading away from where it stood, the red scarf and mittens that adorned it are gone. Over time, Mabel and Jack keep catching glimpses of a blonde haired little girl with a fox by her side. Are they getting “cabin fever” or is there a real child out there? Or is she something out of a fairytale – like the story of The Snow Child that Mabel read when she was young?
I will leave it there as I don’t want to spoil the plot. This book was simply magical. The writing is so evocative that reading about the Alaskan cold had me reaching for a blanket to snuggle up under. It kept me guessing as to whether ‘the Snow Child’, Faina, is a real girl or a magical creature created out of the couple’s longing for a child.
I loved the imagery of snow and wild beasts and the descriptions of life on the land. Passages like this one:
“How could this land ever be farmed? Wherever the work stopped, the wilderness was there, older, fiercer, stronger than any man could ever hope to be. The spindly black spruce was so dense in places you couldn’t squeeze an arm between them, and every living thing seemed barbed and hostile – devil’s club thorns that left festering wounds, stinging nettles that raised welts, and at times swarms of mosquitoes so thick he had to fight panic.”
Eowyn Ivey’s writing is meticulously crafted yet it is effortless to read. If only I could read more books like this one …
Which authors’ writing styles do you admire?