Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child: A Fairy Tale All Grown Up
At the heart of every fairy tale lives a moral, a timeless lesson about life or love. But alas, at some point as we grow up, fairy tales lose their sparkle. Magic turns into mortgages, princes to 401Ks, buried treasure becomes buried-by-taxes. Thankfully, there are writers like Eowyn Ivey, whose debut novel, The Snow Child, is a tale so subtly perfect, so utterly enchanting – and so full of grown-up magic.
It is the early 1920s and Jack and Mabel have moved to the Alaskan wilderness to have a late-in-life go at homesteading. As the couple adjust to their new life and let go of the idea of having children, they fall prey to a growing estrangement. As they each settle into their own routines – Jack struggling to keep employed in a time of little demand for the work he can offer and Mabel struggling to find her place worlds away from the cosmopolitan life she knew in the city – the two begin to drift apart, with few words for each other and even less affection. But in a moment of rare, childlike bliss, husband and wife are caught up in the falling snow, in the new accumulation that indicates for them the start of winter. Together, they build a snowman – or snowgirl, rather – dressing her in a red scarf and mittens. The next day, the snowgirl is melted, the mittens and hat are gone – and a wisp of a young, blonde-haired girl has appeared.
Indeed, The Snow Child is magical and asks you for a while to suspend disbelief at a snowgirl-turned-human, but it also delves into the theme of aging relationships, and what happens when things don’t go exactly as planned. Though the novel has a dark (but no less engrossing) start, there’s a thread of hope sewn throughout the story: hope for the child’s indefinite presence, hope for Jack and Mabel’s love, hope for the fruitfulness of the land, and even hope for the survival of a fox and the demise of a moose. The cast of characters that Ivey creates, though few in number, are near tangible, materializing in the imagination and embodying the culture of homestead living. They circulate around Jack and Mabel, inspiring, encouraging, and reflecting -- and leaving readers believing.
The Snow Child will have you reading late into the night, wishing the book could last forever but refusing to put it down. Ultimately, though, is there a moral? A timeless lesson about life or love? There is – but you’ll have to read it to find out what it is for yourself.