On writing from a breathless moment: a response to reading “The Snow Child”

SnowChildpaperback-banner1Peaks Island Press doesn’t review books written by fellow islanders because the pretentiousness of that offends me. Instead, I like to feature the authors themselves and their writing process, sometimes even my own writer’s journey. What inspires us to write? How does writing fit into – or spill out of – our lives? So, although this entry may look like a book review, it’s not really. I have just finished reading a book, pressing it against my chest and holding it there as though its wisdom would slip between my ribs. It left me struggling to take my next breath and inspired me to pick up a pen.

You know those e-profiles on Facebook and Linked In, the ones that ask you to list your favorites of this, favorites of that – music, movies, and so on? My finger always taps at the blank prompt for “favorite books.” Favorite is a demanding adjective, one that I only deploy when that something makes me gush. The Help (Kathryn Stockett),  Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen) and Chocolat (Joanne Harris) have achieved favorite status for me because they transported me to extraordinary, authentic emotional landscapes.  Now that I’ve turned its last page and intend to read it again right away, I list The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey as one of my rare “favorites.”

Ivey is neither Mainer nor islander, but rather an Alaskan writer; however, the ragged, furred-and-clawed setting that she conjures should feel familiar to those of us who maneuver deep snows, burning cold, chronically-shrinking woodpiles, and the pursuit of wringing our blink-like summer of all that it promises. The Snow Child offers a brave, lancing portrait of love and pain and empathy. An aged couple homesteading in Alaska realize that their anguished loneliness may have breathed life into a simple snowman – a snowgirl, really; they then wrestle with fear, chase their hope, and tentatively learn to embrace a more expansive understanding of family and life itself.

fainaLike most people, I have lost loved ones – some unborn and unnamed, others present, yet bent and vacant with illness. Like the main characters of The Snow Child, Jack and Mabel, I dread the fierce love that can make the simple passage of a child out the door turn into an unexpected moment of raw and crippling fear too big to comprehend. But it isn’t the book, it’s Eowyn Ivey, who inspires me as a writer; she beckons her readers into the bitter, toothed Alaskan wilderness to witness the beauty in the sheen of a swan’s feathers and she holds our hand as she shows us the courage it takes to live a fairy tale life whose ending is already known. Reading The Snow Child made it difficult for me to pull in my next breath; it is that moment, that moment of breathless wonder and desperation in life that leaves me no choice but to write.

If you’re intrigued by this book, I point you to the video trailer and an interview with Eowyn Ivey below.

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