The Snow Child: A Novel

The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey If you grew up in a country where it snows, you probably have at least one memory of making a snowman.

Mine never turned out looking like they did in storybooks; the snow wasn't always quite right, the shapes were never properly rounded, and the requisite carrot and coal and branches were never nearby when you needed them.

Mabel and Jack certainly didn't move to Alaska so they could play in the snow. They travel to Wolverine River in 1920 to begin a new life together.

It's just the two of them. No children. There was one, "born still and silent", who had looked "more like a fairy changeling" than a child. Perhaps they thought that the frontier would be big enough to hold their grief.

From the beginning, Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child begins like the Russian fairy tale ("Snegutochka"):

"There once was an old man and woman who loved each other very much and were content with their lot in life except for one great sadness – they had no children of their own."

The statements are true-but-aren't-quite-true of Jack and Mabel. They aren't very old. They once loved each other very much, but they have fallen out of the habit. They are content when they are not hungry and cold. They have no living children.

But in the gap -- between the fictional man and woman of the fairy tale, and Jack and Mabel in Eowyn Ivey's novel -- resides the stuff that makes this story.

Life on the frontier is not easy, but Jack and Mabel find a certain kind of peace there, and they begin to make a place for themselves as a couple, begin to rediscover their own relationship, which had been overshadowed by the grief they hold for the child that they lost.

It's a figurative re-building, but they are literally re-building their life together on the frontier and, one night, they literally make a child, out of snow, in the wintry night.

They shape her together, with their own hands; they dress her and they stumble indoors and into bed together.

And the next morning? The snow child is gone, though a trail of tiny footprints leads away from the spot that they made her.

In that gap, too, between the figurative and the literal, resides the substance of The Snow Child.

What we can invent, what we can choose, and what we are actually allowed: The Snow Child exists in the gaps between.

I'd say it was heartwarming, but that would be just wrong. I'd say it was chilling, but that's true-but-not-quite-true.

It's the kind of story that makes you think when you're done, that it was really a memory. Made with exactly the right kind of snow, the edges properly rounded, and all the appropriate accessories.

(Please read the full response to this work on Buried In Print.)