I’m happily in the midst of my “open season” for reading, now that I’ve finished up with the 2013 American Library Association Notable Books List.
Set in Alaska in the 1920’s, it’s the story of a married couple trying their hand at clearing land and farming. In their 50’s, they’re hoping for a new start, away from their New England families, and away from whispers and pity about their childlessness.
For the most part, the book is about Mabel, who fears that the move to Alaska has been a big mistake, that it simply reinforces the chill in the distance that has developed between her and her husband, Jack. Then a remarkable thing happens–a girl appears at their home. Mystery surrounds her. To whom does she belong? How does she survive in the brutal Alaskan landscape? Is she real?
The novel parallels the folk tale of the snow child, in ways that on the one hand seem exciting and hopeful, and on the other, strange and heartbreaking. The symbolism of the girl, and ice, and animals, creates a strong psychological undercurrent. Yet, Ivey crafts this story in ways that become compelling.
This is a great choice for book groups–I was dying to discuss it with someone–and thank my friend Shari for meeting me for coffee to talk it over, and for pointing out some aspects of style that provide intriguing clues.
I’m recommending this to a wide variety of fiction readers–its fascinating combination of marriage story, adventure, and magic, holds broad appeal. As we enter winter, this is a perfect choice for a cold-but-cozy evening.