Off the Shelf: A familiar folktale

“The Snow Child” tells a whimsical, yet supremely real tale of heartache on the Last Frontier

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ive. (Photo via Amazon.com)

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ive. (Photo via Amazon.com)

It drew my eye at one of the book kiosks at Ted Stevens International Airport. A simple cover: an illustration of a small blond girl wearing a blue coat and red mittens peeking out from behind snowy birch trees. A black and white “Pulitzer Prize Finalist,” badge shining brightly in the upper right corner.

A familiar sight on Alaska bookshelves, “The Snow Child” tells a whimsical, yet supremely real tale of heartache on the Last Frontier. Author Eowyn Ivey, who hails from the Matanuska-Susitna area, sets the story against the landscape of Southcentral Alaska. She more than once alludes to landmarks that will undoubtedly ring familiar to peninsula readers.

“It was a beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all,” Ivery writes in one chapter.

The story is based on a Russian folktale in which a childless couple build a snow child who comes to life. Ivey’s story follows a couple homesteading in Alpine in the 1920s. I interpreted Alpine to be near Sutton, as that is where Ivey is from, and indeed the characters are described to have arrived at their homestead via railroad after landing in Seward.

It’s a haunting tale of both Alaskan ruggedness and majesty; Ivey articulates the splendor of Southcentral in the way only someone who lives in Alaska can. It endears you to the story, but also to Ivey as a writer. Incorporated into the work are passages from various iterations of the same story: they hint at plot developments and connect “The Snow Child” to a rich literary canon.

The titular character reminds me of Elsa, from Disney’s “Frozen,” and indeed she is just as compelling a character. The couple at the center of the story feel familiar; like people I would run into at Three Bears or Kaladi’s. They are supremely real and portrayed in a way that has you rooting for their happiness.

The rich atmosphere of the “The Snow Child” makes it a perfect companion for a cold snowy day. I definitely plan to revisit it come winter.

Eowyn Ivey spent nine years working as a reporter and editor for the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman newspaper. The Snow Child was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and was published in 2012 by Reagan Arthur/Back Bay Books.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Off the Shelf is a bimonthly literature column written by the staff of The Peninsula Clarion that features reviews and recommendations of books and other texts through a contemporary lens.

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