The Snow Child
When we were children, the world came alive when we used our imagination. If we needed a friend to play with, we imagined one into existence, and there they were, talking and playing with us. We fought battles, lined up our stuffed animals, put on magic shows for our live audience, and practiced sword-fighting with sticks in our backyards, hoping to hold on to our made-up worlds. Even as we approached our adolescence, we had a tinge of hope that this was indeed what life would be forever: a world made up of fairy tales and adventures driven by magic. Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel, The Snow Child, delves into holding on to the magic of fairy tales—even into adulthood.
The book begins by introducing Mabel, a middle-aged woman contemplating whether she should end her life, bringing to light her deep depression. Her marriage to Jack is beautifully conveyed as depleted and unfulfilled due to the birth of their stillborn baby and their inability to conceive another child. They decide to move to Alaska to get away from the demands of society and the harsh treatment they receive from their family. Being childless builds a wall between them as a couple, as well as between them and others.
The narrative is driven by the coming and going of snow, and when the first snow of the winter season falls, Mabel and Jack’s relationship is rekindled when they build a snow girl, perfectly sculpted and dressed in a scarf and mittens. That night, they make love for the first time in the story. The next morning, the snow girl is just a pile of snow; the scarf and mittens are gone. There are human tracks that lead from the snow pile into the forest. This marks the beginning of their quest to unravel the mystery of the snow girl, Faina.
They spot Faina at different times running through the forest and watching them from the edge of the woods. In order to make sense of what is happening, Mabel refers to one of her childhood books in which there is a fairy tale about a couple who couldn’t have kids, so they build a snow girl who comes to life. The snow girl falls in love with a boy, becomes pregnant and leaves her new parents. In the end, she melts away with the dying of the winter. The fairy tale instills a fear in Mabel’s heart, as she has already fallen in love with the idea of Faina.
Jack and Mabel’s relationship is refreshingly honest and real, yet thefocus of the narrative turns toward the mystery of the snow child. Faina eventually begins spending time with Jack and Mabel—but never stays the night. In the end, there is a secret both Jack and Faina keep: they know where Faina really came from.
Ivey’s strength lies in her ability to describe human emotion and situations with precision. As Jack notices Mabel’s emotional ups and downs as they discover the child and live in wonder of her, Ivey writes: “The same traits that as a young woman had made her so alluring now made her seem unwell. She was imaginative and quietly independent, but over the years this had settled into a grave melancholy that worried him." Ivey’s words weave to convey Jack's distress as he watches his wife’s depression roll in and out with the child’s appearances and disappearances.
A beautifully written fairy tale retold for an adult audience, The Snow Child leaves its readers wondering whether or not Faina is real. Whether or not the fairy tale book played mind games with Mabel’s perception of the truth also remains in question throughout the story. In the end, even the reader wonders if they were merely dragged through a blur of magic and make-believe. And this would all be perfectly acceptable—if Ivey did not present such a tangible relationship between Mabel and Jack. This is the sole letdown: The conclusion brings the couple back to where they were at the beginning of the book, leaving the reader at square one.
However, the mystery and the magic of the snow child and her effect on Mabel and Jack draws the reader in—and keeps them until the story melts away.
Tamar Mekredijian is a full-time freelance and fiction writer. She recently received her master’s degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. She is an avid reader and a lover of the art of writing. She believes that stories are the building blocks of life. Her work has also appeared in Family First Magazine, Salt Fresno Magazine and Totts Magazine. She is a copy editor and family writer for Miss A and a book reviewer for Pacific Book Review. You can read about her writing life at www.odetofiction.blogspot.com.