Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey


Mabel and Jack had never foreseen what their lives would be like in middle age.  They had come from comfortable families on the East Coast, Jack raised on a farm and Mabel in a scholarly family.  But as middle age approached and their lives had not turned out as they had hoped, they had an urge to make a change.  That change took them to the Alaskan wilderness where they became homesteaders.  The work was hard, even grueling and they soon wondered if this decision was a mistake.

The biggest issue in their married life had been the absence of children.  Mabel had miscarriages and even one child who was stillborn.  She longed for a child and it was now apparent that there would be no children.  She and Jack did what they could to build a happy life without the blessing they had been denied. 

One night in the first snowfall, they made a snow girl.  For some reason, they spent extra time constructing her.  Jack carved out her face with care and Mabel brought out a red coat and mittens.  Then they went inside and soon forgot about it.  

But something strange happened.  Soon a young girl started to appear at the homestead.  No matter how cold the temperature, she appeared happy in her ragged clothes.  She disappeared whenever they spoke to her but kept coming around.  Slowly, over weeks, she grew bolder and the day came when she even agreed to come inside.  Mabel was estastic and wondered if the snow girl they had made out of love had come to life.  She remembered the fairy tales she grew up on about a couple and their snow maiden.  

Jack knew better as the girl took him to her home up in the mountains and showed him a corpse.  This was her father who had been a trapper and who had raised her in the woods but then drank himself to death.  Jack buried him and then he and Faina, the girl, had a secret.  Faina visited Jack and Mabel all winter but then as the spring approached, she disappeared.  They worried that she had died of exposure or in a hunting accident or any of the many ways Alaska could bring death but Mabel was full of hope.  She knew in her heart that Faina would reappear the next winter and so it was.

There were other children around.  Their nearest neighbors had a quartet of strapping boys.  The youngest, Garrett, seemed to have an interest in Jack and after Jack was injured in an accident, Garrett moved in for several months to help with the planting that would keep Jack and Mabel alive for another year.  The couple grew close to Garrett and to his parents.  There were few people in the wilderness and anyone who could be a friend was treasured.  

I've been interested in reading this book for several years.  I avoided it due to the thought that it was a fantasy that could never be true.  Once I realised that Faina was a real girl, wild and almost feral to be true, but flesh and blood, I was much more interested in this story.  Her growth and the ability of Jack and Mabel to reinvent themselves and to improve the life of anyone they met was a fascinating study on homesteader life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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