Despite my best intentions of not purchasing any books for the past year I ended up walking out of a bookstore with this tightly in my grasp. Awaiting winter, this book caught my interest, and a winter story it certainly is. So, if you are a reader who escapes into the pages of a book and you don't particularly want to escape into an Alaskan winter while you're in the middle of a snowstorm at home, maybe hold off until July to read this.
Mabel and Jack, an older couple who have just settled in the Alaskan wilderness in the 1920's, have more than the hard winters and tough land to worry about. Mabel, right away, is a woman on edge and very depressed. It's quickly revealed how lonely and sad she is, that she wanted to escape their home in Pennsylvania and while they may have escaped the land she has not been able to escape her lack of children aside from one tiny babe that was stillborn. Jack is struggling to make ends meet and his wife is a constant worry. He feels that he has failed her in more than one way. Together, they are lost in the darkness of the Alaskan winter in their little home and seeming to lose the spark that makes people alive.
Up until one night when a playfulness takes over the couple and together they end up outdoors in the swirling winter snows. They make a snowchild and decorate it with a hat and mittens and that is when the snow child is born.
Faina is seemingly a child of the wild. With white-blonde hair, ice blue eyes, pale skin and a tendency to get overheated quickly -- she is certainly a part of the snowy land. With a fox that follows closely by and her ease with the winter landscape you are torn between feeling she is a spirit of nature or an actual child. Jack and Mabel are also unsure what to think of her.
The entire book I was unsure if it would become something of fantasy or just a coincidence of events. Mabel and Jack befriend a couple in the area that claim their "seeing" a little girl who visits them only in winter is the result of cabin fever -- that they are going stir crazy (emphasis on the crazy) -- and as a reader I wasn't entirely sure what to believe either. Reading what Mabel and Jack experienced: Faina growing and the little home that she apparently lived in, one would assume she was a living child. But the fact remained that it is hard enough for a grown person to live in Alaska let alone a child.
The story progresses and is placed into three parts. The introduction of Faina, the growth of her, and the ultimate conclusion. I won't go into detail of the conclusion but with only the fact that it does seem to follow along the lines of the Russian fairytale Mabel clings to from her life before Alaska.
The story was beautifully written and while I have never been to Alaska (and haven't much interest in visiting) I did find myself able to perfectly picture the wilderness without any struggle. The book left me somewhat sad but content. It had a clear beginning, middle and end and the continuation and possibilities of the future despite that the pages (and a life) have ended. It held onto me when I was done with the book and I still, often enough, find myself thinking of it. In some ways it has a sad ending, in others, the ending is beautiful. I suppose it's all dependent on your opinion.