This summer my literary focus has been on folktale traditions around the world. Often, the words in these stories are simple, but, like the magic they describe, they somehow convey the most complicated of society’s fears and wishes. Even better, those themes are almost always universally appealing whether they were first spoken in Germany, Russia or Cameroon. These are some of the countries I’ve spent my summer reading about, so it was a nice surprise to read “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey—a modern revision of a classic Slavic fairytale, but this time, set in Alaska.
Although the state is one of the US fifty, it didn’t take long to realize that this is a place unlike any you might encounter on the modern continent. Ivey opens the novel with a scene that sweeps its reader up into a whirlwind, not unlike the Alaskan blizzards she describes. Her protagonist, Mabel, is the kind of lonely only possible when the fir trees and wild country are your only company. Although she lives with her husband, Jack, they behave more like friendly acquaintances than husband and wife. After the first snow of the season, they create a snow child in their spontaneous and unexpected joy, and there the magic begins. Ivey’s novel is not necessarily plot driven, but it reads like one that is. The reader has the honor of being an informed observer into the lives of Mabel, Jack, and their (real? imagined?) snow child, as the three of them navigate each of their own demons via the rugged landscape. “The Snow Child” will go down as one of my favorite novels, and certainly my favorite modern retelling of a fairytale. If you’re looking for a gust of cold air in this summer’s stifling heat, I would highly recommend Ivey’s brilliant novel.