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I’ve always loved fairy tale adaptations (Jane Yolen, Robin McKinley, Patricia Wrede) and The Snow Child is among the best, perhaps in a class by itself. The Snow Child is a retelling of a Russian fairy tale set in the wild and isolated Alaskan frontier in the 1920s. Ivey stunningly describes the land, the snow and the extreme hardships of trying to make a life there. Mabel and Jack have settled in Alaska to try and escape the sadness and grief of their life in Pennsylvania. One night they create a child out of snow, and the next morning ethereal child Faina enters their lives. Is she an orphan fending for herself in the forest or the creation of Mabel and Jack? I had a little trouble at this point, constantly wondering, "Is she real?" but I eventually stopped questioning and just enjoyed the story.
For me, this book was mainly about parenthood (biologic or not), with all its multiple joys and heartbreaks. Particularly poignant is Mabel's intense longing for a child, with her heavy and heartbreaking feelings and actions. Mabel's and Jack's recognition of their motherhood and fatherhood, the mistakes they may have made and experiences they may have missed in truly becoming parents are also beautifully written. There are some achingly wonderful and sad moments when Jack in particular sees Faina as the person she truly is and no longer the image of a child he has held in his mind. This book is magical, realistic, harsh, beautiful and well worth listening to.
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The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is an extraordinary work of art and is a major contribution to the literature of the American West.
Its description and visual imagery of the natural world of Alaska is the equal of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Its portrayal of the marriage tensions of Jack and Mabel is the equal of Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose. Lively Esther is the equal to the strong western woman in an Ivan Doig novel.
Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It ends with "I am haunted by waters."
I am haunted by The Snow Child.
And I am haunted by Faina's voice as performed by Debra Monk.
57 of 60 people found this review helpful