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A Magical Transformation
Psychiatric News
Volume 47 Number 10 page 11b-11b

Fairy tales can have immense healing powers in a world that is both fantastic and terrible. Eowyn Ivey’s charming debut novel, The Snow Child, wondrously parallels a Russian folk story with the trials and triumphs of rural life. Living amid the desolate backdrop of 1920s Alaska, central characters Jack and Mabel have fled to the faraway north after the birth of their stillborn child. They are settlers, fighting nature every season to survive not only the elements but also their depression.

The pristine snow blanketing the forest where they live is an obvious metaphor for the couple’s repressed feelings about their loss. Their relationship is so fraught with tension, the atmosphere so drenched in unspoken grief, that their future is looking nothing short of grim. Mabel even contemplates her suicide in the novel’s opening pages. Stoic Jack, meanwhile, observes how his wife had “settled into a grave melancholy that worried him.”

An ever-widening chasm develops between the couple. With painful clarity, Ivey manages to convey the quiet despair of two people who are aware that their marriage is slowly falling apart and feel themselves powerless to save it. Unexpectedly, the magical first snow of the winter brings a lighter mood that sees the 50-year-olds playfully build a snow man in their yard. In this beautiful, violent place, things are rarely as they appear, and these homesteaders become convinced that their enchanted snowman transformed into a young girl overnight.

New adventures and hopes flurry around the couple as their relationship with the snow girl and each other deepens. Whether this is an example of “cabin fever” or a folie à deux, the power of imagination is real. A whimsical tale, The Snow Child takes readers on a mesmerizing journey through human resiliency and love. inline-graphic-1.gif

Helen M. Farrell, M.D., is an instructor at Harvard Medical School and a staff psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

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