walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

_The Snow Child_, Eowyn Ivey (kindle)

This month's book group pick for Mayberry, NH (<-- not its real name). I finished this one. Shocking, I know! I wasn't sure I was even going to make it a chapter in at first because Ivey chose to start the book describing the grinding depression of the around 50 year old childless Mabel who moved to Alaska to homestead around 1920 hoping to get away from the sound of children. She'd had one stillbirth and her sister had many children and you know how that can go.

SPOILERS! Run Away! Now! AAAAUUUUIGGGGHHH!

Her husband, Jack, is doing all the farm labor, which traps her indoors with no company and a bunch of screwy ideas about how being around people will be good for her somehow. Just as he's contemplating going to work in the mine, another family sort of adopts them. They are everything our aging childless couple is not, and at around the same time _that_ happens, the couple gets all giddy and makes a snowman, snow child, and then they start seeing a girl flitting around in the area. They don't talk about her much, and when they do, they are disbelieved, but the joy of seeing her and eventually talking to her gets them through a tough winter.

There's a turn for the worse: Jack is dragged by his horse and seriously injured. As they are about to return to their family, the adoptive family shows up and plants their field (along with the woman's assistance, which, predictably, cheers Mabel up. Hey, occupational therapy isn't some kind of joke, people.). Garrett, the youngest, troublemaker boy, thrives with Jack and Mabel and he sticks around for a while. Predictably, as the years pass, he hooks up with the snow child now maiden, Faina, who acquires a backstory to explain her presence and skillset.

But Mabel to Garrett and Faina has always been bookish, and she allows Ivey to bludgeon us with the fact that this is a retelling of a whole bunch of Russian fairy tales about the snow maiden who, when domesticated, dies. And while Ivey allows Mabel to contemplate an alternative ending, that does not happen. Faina has a baby with Garrett, comes down with a fever, runs off into the woods and never returns (presumed eaten by wolves).

Yuck.

The epilogue shows the happy-ish extended family (Garrett, his parents, and the "old couple") raising Jay, Faina's boy.

On the one hand, it's a pretty excellent retelling in a clever setting: Alaska during the '20s, homesteaders selling stuff to the railroad and some of them doing well enough to ship a Model T out to drive around on crappy roads (one of Garrett's brothers). On the other hand, it's a category of fairy tales that I just loathe. Also, Ivey is Not Subtle about what she is doing; this is a plot driven book AND Mabel grew up with a book about the snow maiden and sends away to her sister to get it. Ada writes a long letter with a gloss on the category of fairy tales -- okay, Ivey, we GET IT. Jeez.

It'll be interesting to hear what the group thinks. It may be that I'm hypersensitive to what is necessary to accomplish the author's task.

ETA: Everyone finished the book! This is actually a little unusual. We make sure everyone understands that just because they were unable to finish a book is no reason not to come and participate in the discussion; we want to know why they weren't able to read the book, because we're all busy all the time but we'll make time for a book that is appealing to us, to start, to continue and to finish. A book that turns us off is a book we'll let other things crowd out. It's notable when everyone finished the book. It scored around 4 out of 5 all around. No one but me felt bludgeoned by the look, I'm retelling a fairy tale! aspects; I sort of suspected that what the author was doing was pretty well gauged to the audience and indeed it was.

It's often more difficult to get a good discussion out of a book we all agree on (I had to work to get people to talk about Perrotta's _The Leftovers_, because everyone disliked it so much, albeit for slightly different reasons), than one which sparks strong but different opinions. But I felt like it was easy to talk about this book, even tho we agreed on a lot of aspects of it. It's actually a really enjoyable book group book.

I had been thinking of this as a sort of inverted Julie of the Wolves, written from the non-Julie point of view. I mentioned this, but no one in the group was familiar with the book. (!!!) However, I am definitely not the first person to make the connection; there's at least one Goodreads thread about the similarities. I also thought of this as a frontier novel, and thus like the Little House books. Sure enough:

http://www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk/lifestyle/20-questions-for-eowyn-ivey-author-of-the-snow-child

"2.What writers did you enjoy reading as a child?

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madeleine L’Engel, Scott O’Dell, Lois Lowry, Gertrude Chandler Warner, C.S. Lewis, Judy Blume, Jean Craighead George. And if Harry Potter had been around when I was a child, J.K. Rowling would have made the list."

Scott O'Dell's _Island of the Blue Dolphins_ seems pretty close (another girl living all by herself with no other humans). Gertrude Chandler Warner is a long time fave of my sister, for The Boxcar Children. I also thought of Harry Mazer's _The Island Keeper_, but the tone is so different.
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