After seeing that several kindred book spirits were loving this book, I decided that I clearly needed to pick it up and give it a read. I mean, a fairy tale type story set in Alaska? How had I not read it before?
Here’s a quick synopsis before I get into it:
“Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart – he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone – but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place, things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.”
Okay, let me start off by saying that this book indeed has a magical quality about it! The language; the story! Ivey weaves it all together beautifully, creating questions and suspense, emotion and dreams all at once.
The stage is set so well in part one, with Jack and Mabel clearly living in their own worlds and struggling in their own ways. And then, one magical night, they build a snow girl, and everything changes.
I especially connected with Mabel in this story: being 8 months pregnant, I found it so difficult and heart-wrenching to read about their struggles to have children. It honestly made me weep on several occasions. And this is truly what I most appreciated about this book: it’s both otherworldly, fairlytale-like and piercingly realistic. At least, in my opinion, for the first two parts.
You see, I felt like the book fell apart in the third section. Everything between Jack and Mabel and Faina and the other characters had been set up so well: Mabel’s distress over whether or not Faina was real or a conjured dream; Jack’s struggle with his promises and with the farm; Jack and Mabel becoming a team again; etc. But then Part Three.
As she gazed upon him, love…filled every fiber of her being, and she knew that this was the emotion that she had been warned against by the Spirit of the Wood. Great tears welled up in her eyes — and suddenly she began to melt. – “Snegurochka,” translated by Lucy Maxym
I adore this epigraph! Clearly, we know what will happen in part three.
But, then, I felt that Ivey just flew through this section. In no time at all, Faina’s fox was shot (without repercussions), Garrett and Faina fell in love (without much hate), they were pregnant, they got married (in the summer, with no mal effect), the baby was born, Faina disappeared. And through it all, the vivid characters Ivey had created in Mabel and Jack faded away.
I don’t know. I feel like part three took away all the magic that parts one and two had done so well to set up. And that almost ruined the whole story for me.
I still think that Ivey writes beautifully and that this story had a unique, magical quality to it that I love, but in the end, I was disappointed.
Good thing I had cookies.
In some ways, this story reminded me of Life of Pi. It asks you if you are willing to suspend reality, and, if so, how far are you willing to suspend it. What do you think happened to Faina in the end? Who was she?