To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

41qpsissbfl-_sy344_bo1204203200_To the Bright Edge of the World

by Eowyn Ivey

Ivey’s debut novel, The Snow Child, entranced me when I read it a couple of years ago, so when I discovered that she had published a new novel, I was eager to read it.

To the Bright Edge of the World is a multi-layered tale.  The story opens as a man named Josh, the curator of a small museum in Alpine, Alaska receives a letter from an old man named Walt in Montana, along with a collection of old letters and diaries.  The letters and diaries were written by his great uncle, Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forester, and great aunt,  Sophie.  In the winter of 1885, Lieutenant Colonel Forester left his young pregnant wife, Sophie, to lead an expedition into the wilds of Alaska to map the area of the Wolverine River Valley and gather information for the U.S. Army about the geography and native people.  Alternating between the contemporary correspondence between Walt and Josh – by means of which a friendship grows between these two very different strangers – and the old diaries and letters of Allen and Sophie, this story of love, grief, adventure, and survival is told.

Alternating between the contemporary correspondence between Walt and Josh – by means of which a friendship grows between these two very different strangers – and the old diaries and letters of Allen and Sophie, this story of love, grief, adventure, and survival is told.  During the months-long Alaskan expedition Lieutenant Colonel Forester and his men are subject to harrowing conditions and bizarre, inexplicable incidents, while back home at Vancouver barracks in Washington territory, Sophie makes her way through her own ordeals, ultimately finding solace in photography.

As in The Snow Child, Ivey demonstrates here a gift for the fantastical, where the lines between what is real, what is not real, and what is possible are indiscernible.

A fine work of fiction.

 

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

11250053  The Snow Child: A Novel
by Eowyn Ivey

Every once in a while a book comes along that moves you and stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page.  This is one of those stories.

It is 1922, and Jack and Mabel have fled their comfortable Pennsylvania home to settle in the Alaskan wilderness to homestead.  By putting thousands of miles between themselves and the heartbreak – a stillborn baby and the loss of any chance for more children – that threatens to undo them, they hope to start over and find contentment, if not actual happiness, in the hard work of farming in an untamed land. Eking out an existence is even more trying than they imagined, however, and as the story opens, Mabel is nearly overcome by despair.

The first snow of winter arrives, and in a moment of playfulness, Jack and Mabel build a snowman in their yard – actually, a snow girl, lovingly adorned with straw hair, red mittens and scarf, and lips reddened by berries.  The next morning, there is only a pile of snow where the snow girl had been; the red mittens and scarf are gone, and there are child-sized boot prints leading away from the pile of snow, though no tracks lead into the yard or to the snow pile.

Soon, a strange little girl begins appearing at the edge of the woods on the couple’s property.  With wide blue eyes and white-blonde hair, she flits through the woods like a sprite, sometimes accompanied by a red fox, venturing nearer and nearer the couple.  Eventually she comes right up to their cabin, and they welcome her inside and feed her.  She calls herself Faina, and she has an otherworldly quality to her – indeed, she seems to be almost magical.  Jack and Mabel, who have longed for a child for so long, embrace this strange, lovely girl, who, over the years, comes and goes, never staying long, and always disappearing with the end of the snow, only to reappear the following winter.  For years, nobody else sees the girl nor any evidence of her existence, and Jack and Mabel’s kindly neighbors fear that Mabel’s grief and weak constitution are playing on her imagination.

Faina grows from little girl to young woman, and over the years, she becomes more and more like Jack and Mabel’s own daughter.  The more deeply they love her, the more afraid they become.  Mabel is reminded again and again of a Russian fairy tale her father read to her when she was a child – a tale of an old man and an old woman who long for a child, and build one out of snow.  In the fairy tale, the snow child comes to life, but the story doesn’t end well.

A beautifully wrought story, The Snow Child, based on a character, Snegurochka, from Russian folklore, is set against the gorgeous and often ominous backdrop of an Alaskan wilderness, so vividly depicted that every scene springs to life, and you can almost feel the cold wind and smell the spruce trees.  A debut novel about love and loss and magic and a marriage that endures, this story won’t soon leave me.  I hope Ivey writes more!