The Snow Child, set in 1920s Alaska, is the story of middle-aged couple Jack and Mabel, who shoulder the disappointment of not being able to have children of their own. One night, they make a “snowchild” and soon after, a little girl of the woods begins appearing at their cabin. Their wish seems to have come true, and we, the reader, are never really sure if this child is real.
Author Eowyn Ivey sucks you in with the quiet tension between words and paragraphs. It’s the underlying conflict between characters and scenes, in the push and pull of a conversation, in walking from the warm cabin to the cold barn in a black Alaska night. It’s also in the mystery of the child—where she comes from and whether she’ll stay.
Ivey strikes the perfect balance of strong writing and story. I found myself reading long after this mother of young ones should have turned out the light. (I also found myself frightened to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night—this book is the kind of eerie that makes you want to turn on the lights).
The Snow Child is not: “He came barreling at her with a knife poised in mid-air.” But more: “[Jack’s] eyes caught now and then on a stump or a shadowy spot among the trees…he peered one last time over his shoulder and saw it—a flash of movement, a smudge of brownish red. The horse snorted…a red fox darted among the fallen trees…for a moment its eyes locked with Jack’s and there…he saw the savagery of the place.”
The last third of the book was slightly—slightly—disappointing, but only because the first two-thirds are downright masterful. Ivey creates wonderfully compelling images that are still with me long after I closed the book. Jack and Mabel’s Alaska homestead in a mountain valley, and especially the snow child, are real to me and live in my mind as if memories.
As for the most striking scene of the book, I’ll just say: “swan.”
Look for it. You’ll see what I mean.