Now that the cold weather has settled in and snow blankets many parts of the country, I’ve decided to reread The Snow Child, a favorite of mine that I first read two years ago. The author, Eowyn Ivey, is a native of Alaska and she still lives there today. Breathing new life into an old Russian fairy tale, hers is a beautifully haunting and evocative novel that author Robert Goolrick has speculated would have been the product “if Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had collaborated on a book.” With its touches of magical realism and enchanting depictions of Alaska’s fierce natural surroundings, it’s not surprising that The Snow Child was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
In many ways, modern-day Alaska is still a brutal place for homesteaders. But imagine it in the 1920s, without so many of the conveniences that make living in the wilderness a possibility today. For Mabel and Jack, newly arrived from the East Coast, it is a particularly difficult existence. The back-breaking work on the farm is taking its toll on him and she is shattered by despair and back country isolation. To top it off, they are past their prime and childless—and it appears that they are destined to grow old and die alone. But one day, during the season’s first snowfall, they enjoy a moment of levity and cobble together a child out of snow.
Their creation disappears by the next morning, however they spy something moving among the trees. It is a fair-haired little girl and a red fox is at her side. At first it seems that Jack and Mabel might have conjured the girl in their imaginations, but she is eventually seen by Esther and George, the closest neighbors. The child’s name is Faina and she gradually inserts herself into Jack and Mabel’s life. But, as might be suspected, she’s no ordinary child. She moves effortlessly through the snow and has somehow managed to survive alone in the wilderness. Even though she appears to be human, Faina, as the name suggests, really is a creature of the forest, a being that belongs to the snow and bare branches.
Although Jack and Mabel never really figure out this fairy-tale child, they come to love her as their own flesh and blood, and their lives take on new meaning. But Alaska is a savage and lovely place, and things are often not as they appear. Is Faina real or not? Will she stay or will she go? Whatever happens, Jack and Mabel will never be the same.
Title: The Snow Child: A Novel
Author: Eowyn Ivey
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books; 1 edition (February 1, 2012)