We begin in Alaska, where elderly, childless couple Jack and Mabel have escaped their family’s many queries about their childlessness. Mabel, growing lonelier by the day, mourns the babies she could never bring into the world, while Jack is struggling physically to run the farm by himself. One night, they make a little snow girl, and finish her up with a red scarf and mittens. From this moment on, traces of the girl become apparent in the real world, a shadow here, some footprints there. Their only friends do not believe in the existence of a girl who can survive the snowy Alaskan winters alone, but over the years, the girl called Faina makes a place for herself in Jack and Mabel’s lives. She appears each winter, and disappears in spring.
Mabel remembers a Russian fairy tale she read as a child about a little snow girl, much of which is true about Faina. But as the novel progresses we see that she is very real as well. Jack helps her bury her father who passes during one particularly cold winter, and Garrett, their farm hand, becomes enamoured with her and follows her into the mountains to watch her spring-time activities.
Garrett and Faina’s love grows and as they mature a child is born to them. But it is clear Faina is not made for a normal life. There is still something wild and fey about her, and she cannot be tied down to husband and child.
It’s clear that Ivey has not totally made her mind up about how she wants to realise her snow girl character. Or maybe that’s the mystery – but to me, while charming, not all of the equations add up here. Greater clarity may have resulted in a more wholly realised novel.