I first opened “The Snow Child” in the middle of a Minnesota cold snap. In the opening pages, Mabel, the central character, is facing another despairing Alaskan winter and tempts fate by walking out on a barely frozen river.
It is the 1920s, and a childless, aging couple is attempting to make a life by turning the brutal Alaskan frontier into farmable land. Jack, Mabel’s husband, works tirelessly in the cold, pulling up tree roots, while Mabel spends her lonely days keeping house and eking out meals from their dwindling supplies.
By dinner, when Jack finally returns home, he is too tired to carry on conversation and Mabel drifts further into loneliness.
After the opening, I almost abandoned the book, declaring it too dark to read in a Minnesota winter.
But then the story turns magical, as Jack and Mabel, in the first snowfall of winter and a rare playful moment, create a child made of snow, complete with red mittens.
The next morning, the mittens are gone. In the days that follow, Mabel, and then Jack, catch glimpses of a small girl with red mittens eyeing them from behind the trees. Her unlikely, ethereal appearances give them hope.
Inspired by a fairy tale, native Alaskan Ivey captures both the brutal and the stunningly beautiful that is Alaska and the characters who are shaped by it.
Reading “The Snow Child” is a magical experience rarely delivered by a first-time novelist. M.L. Stedman set the bar with “The Light Between Oceans,” but this novel comes incredibly close.
The Snow Child is available in paperback at Turtle Town Books & Gifts in Nisswa.
(Mary Miller owns Turtle Town Books & Gifts in Nisswa.)