Top critical review
on 5 September 2013
Based on a Russian fairytale about how a lonely old childless couple makes a child out of snow, the reader anticipates the sad ending from the first word, and yet he continues to read, because, just because, Mabel, the childless protagonist in Ivey's first novel, is all too aware of the fairy tale, and the reader, like her, wishes that this time, the outcome would be different.
Ivey's simple but descriptive prose brings the harsh environs of the 1920s Alaskan wilderness right out of the pages of the novel. One can almost hear the hush of the first snowfall on a winter's night, or the roar of the river in spring. When little Faina, with hair so blond it's white, magically appears in the lives of Jack and Mabel, it was the last thing they expected. They had come to this isolated place to leave a past sadness behind, and through Faina, they heal, even as their uneasy relationship with this mysterious child throws up more worries and uncertainties, as they traverse the uneasy boundary of caring too much for a child that's not theirs.
Perhaps why I felt that Ivey's story fails to rise to the heights suggested by the promising start, is the sheer length of the novel. For a story that is built on a premise that is so simple, the transition from Faina the little girl to young woman felt too prolonged and her persistent disappearance into the woods becomes tiresome rather than enchanting after a while. However, this is a hopeful tale, nonetheless, and worth a read.