In the four years I've been blogging, I've never waited this long to review a book. It has been a good six weeks since I finished this audio and for some reason I keep delaying the process of recording my thoughts. I didn't originally seek out this book - it just happened to be on the little iPod loaned to me by Heather (for the purposes of listening to "A Discovery of Witches") and I impulsively figured why not? I'd heard a few reviews that were positive.
But every time I go to sit down and summarize how I FEEL about the listening experience, I'm conflicted. I should keep track of every time this kind of thing happens. I bet there is a reason I haven't quite figured out. But time is ticking, my list of books to review gets longer, and I'm going to forge ahead. Perhaps if I just start writing, the emotions will sort themselves out.
Synopsis: It is Alaska in the 1920's. The territory is largely undeveloped and barren, but there are opportunities for ownership for anyone robust enough to accept the challenge. Or in the case of Jack and Mabel, lonely and desperate enough. They are aging and have accepted the fate of being childless, and are growing apart by degrees. He is killing himself trying to work the ground and eke out a living, and Mabel is alone and depressed. But one evening during the first snow of the season, they make a snowman, dressing it in a hat and scarf. The next morning the snowman is destroyed, the hat and scarf gone, but they glimpse a little girl running through the trees.
The girl, named Faina, seems to be almost feral, surviving on her own in the wild, but Jack and Mabel welcome her in their home as their adopted daughter. Each year she appears at first snow fall, and leaves with the approaching of spring. Is she real, or just a figment of a fairy tale? None of the other neighbors have ever seen her. But the child's presence brings about a transformation between the couple, reigniting the love that originally brought them together and strengthening the partnership that must be there in order for them to survive.
My thoughts: This is a book that would be classified as "gentle". Not all gentle books work for me, so I was initially a little skeptical. Turns out, there was quite a bit about this story that I enjoyed.
It is a nice departure to read a story that revolves around characters that are middle-aged. Granted, their lives were pretty bleak when we first meet them, but they go through a heartening transformation because of the little girl, their relationship blossoming and maturing and strengthening when, with any other story, everything would be going to a very dysfunctional hell. (Seriously, I think 85% of books build their plots on dysfunction and misery.)
I also got the hugest kick out of Jack and Mabel's neighbors, and ultimately their best friends, George and Ester...a farm family with three strapping, loud boys. They are the neighbors that everyone would want...pitching in when times get tough, not taking "no" for an answer, selflessly giving of themselves. My heart lightened whenever they entered the picture, and felt it made a good book greater with their presence.
But what confused me was this feeling that the story was a fairy tale. Or was it? I don't mind fairy tales, but with this story you are never quite sure exactly what you have. It left me unsettled and uneasy. I was never on solid ground. Things felt bizarre, magical and unreal one minute, grounded and raw the next. The tone and direction of the plot takes a definitive turn about halfway through the book, and it felt jarring and confused me further. Thus my hesitance in writing down my thoughts.
Ivey's writing is absolutely gorgeous, I will say that. She is an author with a tremendous amount of promise.
A few words about the audio production: Our narrator for this book was Debra Monk. She was a new voice for me, and while she did a fine job in this production, I was left with a neutral impression. Her voice had some harsh, sharp edges, which may have been suited for a story of homesteading in Alaska, but isn't always pleasing to the ear.
Audiobook length: 10 hours and 51 minutes (400 pages)
4 out of 5 stars