In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believed as children, and that perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees.
I find there are few sorrows that cannot be quelled by a blanket of freshly fallen snow. When longing for my dad, who passed away several years ago, threatens to overwhelm me, I go to my favorite moment with him: I'm home from college on winter break, it's midnight and I've just come in from visiting friends. It's snowing, the kind of snow that makes the world quiet and lights up the night sky, and my dad gets that twinkle in his eyes and says "let's go build a snowman." And we do just that. Right there at midnight. That midnight snowman has chased many a blue day away.
Before I was married, I would fantasize about having kids and how I'd let them all stay home the first day it snowed each year and we'd drink hot cocoa and play in the snow all day. So where did I end up putting down roots to raise a family? The desert. As my sister-in-law said to me the other day, "One of the tragedies of your life is that you have to live in Nevada." While Southern Nevada is a lovely place with even lovelier people, it is sadly lacking in seasons. And snow? Pretty much nonexistent. Sigh. I try to pretend I live somewhere else. I light fires in my fireplace when I don't need them, I turn down the AC in September and October and burn pumpkin candles to trick myself into thinking it's fall outside. Every once in a while though, reality rears its ugly head and I can get rather melancholy. I learned a new word the other day that describes my condition perfectly. I'd like to say I found it while reading, but it came from one of my other reliable sources: Sheldon Cooper.
Weltschmerz! The depression that arises from comparing the world as it is to a hypothetical idealized world. So now I know what I'm feeling when, after three whole weeks of spring in which my English roses are in their glory, I wake up to summer with its blistering heat and wilting flowers, and I'm hit smack in the face by the fact that I don't actually live in an English cottage. Weltschmerz!
So you're probably wondering by now, and who could blame you, what any of this has to do with Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child. I can't always explain the meanderings of my tired brain, but I will try to do so here. No, it isn't about a child who grows up in the snow and then has to move to the desert and have all her winter dreams crushed. But I would say Mabel, a childless woman on the verge of being defeated by life, suffers from severe weltschmerz, or world-weariness, as it is officially described, and that leads her to convince her husband, Jack, to leave his family farm behind in Pennsylvania to homestead in 1920's Alaska. More than that, though, is that in this tale, the snow stirs magic, blankets sadness, and heals wounds. Like my midnight snowman.
The writing is exquisite. There are sentences that will stop you dead in your tracks and fill you with awe. Like this one: "Not many thirteen-year-old boys could win a wrestling match with envy." I'm brimming with envy over that sentence. And this:
She told no one of the otter. Garret would want to trap it, Faina would ask her to draw it. She refused to confine it by any means because, in some strange way, she knew it was her heart. Living, twisting muscle beneath bristly damp fur. Breaking through thin ice, splashing in cold creek water, sliding belly-down across snow. Joyful, though it should have known better.
When you finish reading it, to ease the melancholy that inevitably comes when reaching the end of a great book, read the interview with the author in the back. She lives in Alaska (dreamy), works in a bookstore (also dreamy), and she's utterly delightful. She's officially on my list of people I'm best friends with in my mind.
This has been a LONG post, but I must end with Robert Goolrick's review because upon reading it I immediately knew I could not come close to summing up this book so brilliantly:
If Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Márquez had collaborated on a book, The Snow Child would be it. It is a remarkable accomplishment—a combination of the most delicate, ethereal, fairy-tale magic and the harsh realities of homesteading in the Alaskan wilderness. Stunningly conceived, beautifully told, this story has the intricate fragility of a snowflake and the natural honesty of the dirt beneath your feet, the unnerving reality of a dream in the night. It fascinates, it touches the heart. It gallops along even as it takes time to pause at the wonder of life and the world in which we live. And it will stir you up and stay with you for a long, long time.
Posted by Rachel