I really enjoyed this book.
Without giving too much away, a couple has moved to Alaska in search of a fresh start, fleeing from general unhappiness stemming from the loss of a child. This loss, in the wife especially, led to years of feeling inadequate and out of place in an extended family very unlike her own. Alaska proves more demanding than anticipated and in the midst of a punishing winter they’re able to find some moments of real joy in which they play, making a snow child, which (maybe!) affects everything that comes after.
How simple and lame was that synopsis? I KNOW. I don’t want to be spoilerific.
The main characters could easily have been flatter (and to be honest I would have liked a little more insight into Jack’s motivation, as it’s made clear several times that the move from “back east” was primarily Mabel’s, his wife’s, idea). But Ivey does a tremendous job. With Mabel particularly, from the very beginning she’s complicated, tough, appealing, tragic. Jack is less well-developed, as is true with the other male characters. Faina, the Snow Child herself, though, is the one I’ve been struggling with. She’s mysterious, otherworldly, even, and yes, that’s necessary. It seemed, however, a big “reveal” moment was always imminent — but it’s not that kind of book. Yeah, I know it sounds ridiculous to expect a single moment where it becomes clear, or clearish, and I probably would have liked the book less had it happened. I just thought it would. So, it doesn’t, and while I’m reminded of a couple of movie moments, Bill Murray whispering in Scarlett Johansson’s ear at the end of Lost in Translation, for example, in which it really doesn’t matter, this book kind of fell flat to me. That said, I so thoroughly enjoyed every other part of it that I’m still giving it 4 stars. It’s beautiful, and the progression in Mabel’s attitude toward Alaska and her newfound acquaintances — from stubborn refusal to admit defeat, to acceptance, to profound affection — was believable and lovely.