“A child born of ice, snow, and longing. You don’t have to understand miracles to believe them.”
19 Bookers descended on the home of Beverly Dossett to discuss this lyrical, magical story based on a Russian fairy tale addressing the “raw emotion of unharnessed grief,” loss, desperation, mortal and immortal love… where a fantasy of a child is used to melt heartache into rapture. Joining us again were Lee McFarland, Ann Hays, Judy Lee, and Patricia Mosley. We’ve missed you and hope this will start a trend. We appreciate everyone putting up with the date changes for this meeting and we’ll try very hard not to alter our schedule from the second Tuesday of the month in the future.
You know we are fanatical about being true to the book selection and unfortunately, the weather decided to be balmy instead of arctic. So, to simulate the Alaskan frontier of 1920 each Booker held an ice cube during the review. Frozen within were red, blue, and silver bugle beads – each color representing a red scarf and mittens, blue coat, and snowflakes, and in the center, a crystal gem. When the ice melted, only the jewels remained along with the memory of what was there – like the snow child.
Melanie, also in character, wore a red scarf and fur vest, bringing her offering in a basket of berries, an animal pelt, and a fish. She masterfully led us through a fabulous review of this book weaving the poetic narrative of the story into the synopsis of the novel. I wish I could recreate her in-depth review for those who were not fortunate to witness it in person, but what I can tell you is that you missed a treat. I’m sure the author would agree that the best of the novel was given proper attention and we all are grateful for such a thorough and passionate accounting of this special book. WELL DONE!
The author, Eowyn Ivey, shelved her work in progress novel in favor of writing The Snow Child drawn to exploring tragedy within her native Alaskan landscape – the wild forests, mountains, and frozen rivers providing the backdrop. The setting served as a character in itself as the dark winters spoke of “lonely isolation, the fresh and sparkling snow, of hope and magic.” The story revolves around the barren life of a childless couple, Mabel and Jack, who seek isolation in the unfertile landscape of Alaska – both desperate to find peace with each other and with the stillborn death of their son. At first snowfall, they built a snow child with a “bundle of yellow grass for hair.” Jack sculpting “such delicate” facial “features formed by his calloused hands” provided “a glimpse of his longing,” with Mabel squeezing wild cranberry juice on her lips. They fashioned the child they couldn’t produce. Wasn’t it impossible for a child built of snow to become real? Logical thinking says yes, but they found a way to believe – small human footprints led away from the “broken heap of snow” – and they caught glimpses of her at the edge of the forest guarded by a red fox. Over time, the snow child began to trust the couple and would visit Mabel and Jack frequently. Her name was Faina. “You must see it to know what it means – it’s the color of the snow when the sun turns.” It’s called alpenglow, an optical phenomenon, occurring when the Sun is just below the horizon. It’s easiest to see when mountains are illuminated as light reflects off airborne snow, water, or ice particles low in the atmosphere. An enchanted name for a lifelike dream.
Touching every one of the five senses in her descriptions of the characters and the setting, Ms. Ivey said of Mabel: “All her life she had believed in something more, in the mystery that shape-shifted at the edge of her senses. It was the flutter of moth wings on glass and the promise of river nymphs in dappled creek beds. It was the smell of oak trees on the summer evening she fell in love.” As to the snow child’s eyes, they were “the broken blue of river ice.” And, the wails of a distraught husband desperately searching the land for his wife – you could hear his voice, “sometimes a shout, other times it was a deep, mournful cry…crying into the starless night sky…Faina, Faina, Faina.” You shivered, felt the warmth of the fire on your hands and feet, ached with every muscle used to plant the crops, smelled sourdough bread baking and moose steaks frying, and felt the agony of injury and defeat. Ms. Ivey subtlety gave the reader clues to make the case for either side of fantasy versus reality. No quotation marks set off any conversation with Faina leading us to assume they were dreams and she did not exist. The case for the snow child being a figment of the imagination can be made as strongly as the one favoring the other side. How does a snowflake held in her palm not melt and when she throws her arms in the air, snowflakes rain down; how can a child live in this wilderness and have enough prowess to fend for herself? But what about her dead Papa, a pink baby blanket, and the black and white photograph of a couple, the woman possessing Faina’s features and blond hair. One theory rings true to me. Faina became human long enough to fill a void for Mabel and Jack – to present them with a child – her child – something they couldn’t do for themselves, all the while knowing she couldn’t survive in their world. She returned to the snow, to the woods, and to the animals – as a “fellow inhabitant of the wild.” By doing so, she could continue to look after her adopted family – from just outside the edge of the forest.
Good fiction develops strong characters and plot twists and keeps us turning the pages. Great fiction drops us in another place and time where we can absorb the nuances of style, savor descriptive words, and wonder. When great fiction is patterned after a fairy tale, we are able to pick what to believe. We can choose our ending – “we can choose joy over sorrow.” As one reviewer said, “this fairy tale is like a candle lit on a dark night, providing a brief illumination, but knowing it will have disappeared by morning.” It’s no surprise this debut novel was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
On the business side:
Books n’ Bloom, the fundraiser for Henderson County Public Library will be held again this year at the Cain Center in Athens, Friday, April 4th. From our meeting we have a table of 9 secured for Lee McFarlane, Judy Lee, Patty Evans, Beverly Dossett, Melanie Prebis, Kay Robinson, Melba Holt, MN and me.Look for a separate e-mail outlining the details for anyone else who might be interested in attending this event.
Bonnie Magee has volunteered her home to host our regular May meeting in order not to interfere with Charlotte Pechacek’s care for her husband.
We talked about revamping our Christmas party for next year, as “we haven’t got it right yet.” We’re thinking of an evening meeting (yes, you heard me correctly.) Details to follow.
We promised to bring some selections to vote on for our April meeting and as we began unfolding our options, it was pointed out that MN and I had not done a review this year. They took a vote and decided we were to pick the book and do the review. We are flattered and of course agreed to do this. We’ve picked Don’t Let Me Go by Katherine Ryan Hyde and already the wheels are spinning. Thank you for giving us this opportunity! The other books we were going to present are as follows and we urge you to read them also. They may be considerations for the upcoming year as well.
As a recap, the following is the rating system MN and I have assigned to OUR opinions of books we’ve read. Again, this is meant to be a guideline only.
5 Stars: Order Now. Expedited shipping worthy. Include in your will.
4 Stars: Borders on Little Bee
3 Stars: Beach Read
2 Stars: Borrow don’t buy
1 Star: Put your money back in the piggy bank
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews, book 1 of 5 in the Dollanganger saga series. At the top of the stairs there are four secrets hidden. Blond, beautiful, innocent, and struggling to stay alive…They were a perfect family, golden and carefree—until a heartbreaking tragedy shattered their happiness. Now, for the sake of an inheritance that will ensure their future, the children must be hidden away out of sight, as if they never existed. (4 +)
The Book of Someday by Dianne Dixon. Olivia's childhood memories are ones of loneliness, fear, and isolation. Kept at home with her uncaring and fanatical stepmother and educated by her moody and unpredictable father, she longed for a normal and loving home. Olivia kept her wishes in a secret journal she called the Book of Someday, an "evolving map" of her heart. (4)
Daughters of our Time by Jennifer Handford is a debut novel about infertility, cancer, and adoption. A couple adopts a child from China – get the hankies. (4 +)
Sycamore Row by John Grisham – his latest bestselling novel written in typical Grisham fashion. If you are a fan, this is a must read. It revisits the characters and setting from A Time to Kill. A handwritten will by a wealthy employer leaves the bulk of his estate to his black maid/caregiver, cutting out completely his children and grandchildren. There’s a great deal of speculation as to why he made this decision, and you do find out in the end. (3+)
The Illegal Gardner by Sara Alexi is different from anything we’ve read so far. It centers on a burgeoning relationship that develops between two people from very different backgrounds and cultures – an English woman living in Greece and a Pakistani illegal immigrant who becomes her gardener and houseboy.
On the recommended reading list:
MN has read: Here, Home, Hope, a debut novel by Kaira Rouda, Women’s literature – good beach read focusing on a 39 year old stay-at-home Mom and former PR professional who finds herself restless and in a rut and decides to make some major changes. (3)
The Language of Secrets by Dianne Dixon. Justin Fisher has a successful career as the manager of a luxury hotel, a lovely wife, and a charming young son. While all signs point to a bright future, Justin can no longer ignore the hole in his life left by his estranged family. When he finally gathers the courage to reconnect with his troubled past, Justin is devastated to learn that his parents have passed away. And a visit to the cemetery brings the greatest shock of all—next to the graves of his father and mother sits a smaller tombstone for a three-year-old boy: a boy named Thomas Justin Fisher. (3.5)
Melba has found another author she likes, Amanda Hughes. MN is in the midst of reading Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry, set in Ireland in 1755, a terrible place ravaged by famine and the brutal occupation of the British. There seems to be no escape. Darcy joins a group of smugglers who trade illegally with the French and when their operation is discovered, she is transported to the English Colonies for servitude.
Finding Emma by Steena Holmes is about a five-year old abducted by an Alzheimer’s patient who sincerely thinks she is her granddaughter. (4).
Disenchanted Widow by Christina McKenna, author of The Misremembered Man takes place in the summer of 1981. Newly widowed Bessie is fleeing Belfast with her young son looking for a fresh start. (3+)
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, set in 1962 in an Italian coastal town – an innkeeper looks out over the water and spies a mysterious woman approaching him on a boat The story jumps from past to present, involves Hollywood love triangle. Beautiful imagery and scenery. (3)
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
February 11th: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Home of Patty Evans
Reviewer: Patty Evans
March 11th: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Home of Marlene Ungarean
Reviewer: Jean McSpadden
April 8th: Don’t Let Me Go by Katherine Ryan Hyde
Home of Sandy Molander
Reviewers: MN Stanky & JoDee Neathery
May 13th: Wonder by R.J. Palacio regular meeting 10:00 AM
Home of Bonnie Magee
Reviewer: Jean Alexander