Bingo Square: Reading the TBR
The Snow Child was in my top five reads the year I read it. Given that, it seems like I should have run out to read Ivey’s follow up, but I didn’t even get the Kindle version of it until January 2018, and then didn’t get around to reading it until this week. I’m not sure if I was hesitant after the magic of The Snow Child, or if I was worried about being emotionally gutted by this one as well. While I can now verify that both of Ivey’s novels are magical and amazing, they are also quiet and moody. They aren’t exactly the kind of thing I pick up when I want pure entertainment or to turn my brain off. Like The Snow Child, this one starts off slowly introducing the characters and the setting, and at some point, the novel simply gets its hooks into the reader. The novels start off slow, sparse even, and yet, with both, at some point I found myself enchanted and gripped.
The novel is made up of a collection of letters, articles and journals, with the majority of the story relying on the 1885 journals of Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Allen Forrester and his wife Sophie. Forrester is leading an expedition to map the interior of the Alaska and the trail of the Wolverine River with two other men and a variety of trappers and local, indigenous peoples. Stories still abound of what happened to the Russians that last attempted this, and it is a expedition with risk but also the promise of breathtaking wilderness.
Sophie is left behind at Fort Vancouver (in present day Washington State near Portland, Oregon, not actually in Canada), and she too keeps a journal, chronicling her life as an Army wife on the frontier. Forrester was attracted to Sophie’s curiosity and intelligence, though these are two attributes that do not necessarily make it easy for her to fit in with the other spouses at Vancouver – she is absolutely fascinated by birds, and her bird watching hobby marks her a bit of an eccentric. The married couple has an intense, quiet love for each other (much like the couple of The Snow Child) and keep these journals to share with each other on Forrester’s return.
Interspersed throughout are newspaper clippings from the same time period, articles from before of the Russian experience, descriptions of some the items the Forrester family has kept from those years, breath taking pictures of Alaska, and a letter exchange between Walt, Forrester’s great-nephew, and Josh, the museum curator at Alpine, Alaska on the Wolverine River. While very reluctant to take the family’s collection of papers when he first receives them, Josh soon finds himself enthralled with the story, and even finds local connections to add and share with Walt.
There are magical realism aspects to this story as well though they are more dreamy and lead to a sense of wonder while in The Snow Child it was more overt. One could easily explain away some of the extraordinary events witnessed in To the Bright Edge of the World as the hallucination of tired, nearly starving men, coincidences or a play of light.
While I enjoyed reading the colonel’s journal entries, I found myself most looking forward to Sophie’s descriptions of life at home, and the letter exchange between Josh and Walt as they describe their wonderment at the lives of previous generations, the magic of Alaska, and grapple with ideas of identity and the consequences of expeditions like Forrester’s on local communities.
I hate the cold and yet, every time I read a novel by Eowyn Ivey, I find myself wanting to see Alaska as she describes both its beauty and its harshness, especially in the late 19th century, when it was a land very unforgiving of mistakes or simple bad luck.
Bingo Square: Reading the TBR