WHY?: It is a story based on a fable that takes place in a harsh, frontier type of environment (1920s Alaska). Both of these aspects appeal to me. It also got a lot of positive reviews when it came out.
SYNOPSIS: Jack and Mabel are childless and well into their middle age when they decide to try homesteading in remote Alaska. Jack grew up on a New England farm but other than that neither has any experience with the type of hardship Alaska will throw at you. Mabel had hoped the change and hard work would fill in some of the emptiness of their barren marriage and at least bring she and Jack closer together but it hasn't really worked out that way. However, in a moment of winter frivolity the couple build a girl out of snow and the very next day they start encountering a strange girl living on her own in the woods. Is it their snow girl come to life or a miracle of another kind?
At the heart of the book is Jack and Mabel and I feel like Ivey hits every note perfectly in developing their relationship. Their deep love for each other is so evident even when their relationship is not working. When their relationship does work it is magic and it's especially lovely because they are more mature. Both frustrated me at different points but in a way that was perfect. Mabel's inability to deal with her heartbreak and her insistence that they move to the wilderness of Alaska though she has no skills and abilities or even knowledge of what it takes to survive. Her unlikely friendship with a brash, somewhat coarse neighbor, Edith, as well as the entry of Faina into their lives steadies her and we see that while she started off ignorant she is resourceful and eager to learn. Jack frustrates with his silences and his "I'm the man and therefore must shoulder all the burden" attitude. It takes a profound injury for him to relax and let Mabel take some of the load. Individually and together they make so much sense. I cannot overstate how much I loved the evolution and depiction of their relationship.
As with any book based on a fable there is a question about how real or magical the events are. The book does a good job surfing between the "worlds" and in the end it really doesn't matter what Faina's origins are - all that matters is how she has affected the people around her. The ending is ambiguous, which if I'm honest is a tad frustrating, but I can't deny that it also feels right. I loved how the character of Faina seemed to be a human representation of the Alaska wilderness and by embracing her, Jack and Mabel slowly start to embrace the new life they have and the new place as home. The whole book feels so beautifully thought out without seeming rigid or overly planned.
The Snow Child fulfilled all of my expectations and then some. It is a fable of the original variety. It doesn't end with a kiss, it can at times be rather sad and disturbing but in the best possible way and not without a measure of hope. The message of the story seems to be that life can be very very sad but to truly live it you must embrace the sadness and try and move through it - not push it aside or bury it deep. Eventually life will also throw moments of such complete joy and beauty at you that in the end the Rolling Stones are right. You may not always or ever get what you want but if you try, you may just get what you need. Since this is probably my favorite Rolling Stones song, I am always going to love a book that beautifully illustrates its truth.
The audio version of the book was really good. I liked the reader who had a good earthy voice that worked for the story perfectly.
FINAL VERDICT: A completely lovely and engrossing read. I recommend to anyone who enjoys fables and stories set in a frontier type setting. 4 out of 5 stars.