The Snow Child seems to be one of those books that everyone loves. Last fall I read many shining reviews of it that convinced me that I would love this too, which was surprising to me because I usually don’t like books that have a ‘fairytale’ element. I think they try too hard to capture that otherworldly and fragile quality that the original fairytales emanate, but I have to say that The Snow Child gets it right.
The book opens on a dream-like note as we are introduced to middle-aged Mabel, a farm wife who is struggling with depression and despair. She’s living in the Alaskan wilderness in the 1920’s with her silent and disappointed husband, Jack, and is drawn to the icy river to contemplate her fate. In this first chapter the white, snowy, crunchy, crystal world of Alaska in wintertime is dazzlingly set and this creates the environment for something strangely beautiful to happen.
One night, in a moment of unusual frivolity, Jack and Mabel form a snow child. They craft the sparkling snow into a small child-like resemblance, Jack carves it a tiny and perfect face and Mabel adorns it with her red scarf and mittens. The next morning, the snow child has melted, the scarf and mittens are gone and Jack sees a red-flashing figure running through the trees. Jack and Mabel both begin to sight the elusive child and finally lure this enchanting girl into their home where they dote on her, nurture her and love her.
The girl tells them her name is Faina, but the rest of her life is a mystery. Faina reminded me of all the fragile, unearthly, luminously and impossibly beautiful girls and women who are strewn through literature and films. The ones who are ultimately untouchable. And Faina is true to this. She leaves in the summer and only visits Jack and Mabel occasionally in the winter. They don’t know where she goes or what she does when she is away from them. Is Faina a real child or could they have somehow created her?
Real or not, Faina’s presence changes their lives. They grow closer to one another, Jack’s heart softens, and Mabel blooms. Their days become more meaningful.
I won’t say more about the plot because, like the snow, it is best when fresh.
I will say, though, that it was inspired by the Russian fairytale, Snegurochka, and though the setting is the harsh and brutal Alaskan wilderness, the magical quality of traditional fairytales is still in evidence.
I don’t think I liked this quite as much as other people did, but I did enjoy it and wanted so much for it to have a happy ending. I loved Mabel and was most interested in how her life was enhanced by the arrival of someone to love and to nurture, how she grew and found strength and a renewed interest in creativity and art through Faina’s presence.
The Snow Child is a lovely and beguiling read that will probably be remembered as one of the best of 2012.