Light on Snow by Anita Shreve

March 17, 2010

light on snow Plot summary (with spoilers): One bleak, wintry day in a rural area of New Hampshire, 12-year-old Nicole “Nicky” Dillon and her father Robert go for their daily snowshoeing trek out in the woods behind their isolated home. This particular trek will prove life-changing, however, as the two come across a newborn baby girl wrapped in a flimsy plastic sleeping bag out in the snow. The baby has obviously been abandoned, left there to die by someone who didn’t want her. The Dillons quickly scoop the baby up and rush her to the nearest hospital. Fortunately, the girl will survive — though she might lose a few fingers or toes to frostbite.

The saga doesn’t end there for Nicky and Robert. Through flashbacks, we learn about a devastating tragedy that prompted the move from Westchester, NY to this lonely town far away from everything else. Just a couple years ago, Nicky’s mother and one-year-old sister Clara were killed in a car accident, an event that profoundly altered her father. No longer was Robert the loving, carefree, playful, and successful architect. Instead, he was withdrawn, sad, almost bitter. Even at 12, Nicky is painfully aware of the contrast, and wishes that her life could somehow get back to normal.

Readers get even more insight into Nicky’s hardships when 19-year-old Charlotte comes into their life. Charlotte at first poses as a prospective buyer of some of Robert’s handcrafted furniture, but soon confesses that she is the mother of the baby the Dillons rescued. She learned of Robert’s name in the newspaper and felt compelled to come out and meet him. Robert, with the memory of Clara’s death still fresh, is completely repulsed by Charlotte. He won’t look at her, won’t talk to her, and thinks about turning her in to Detective Warren. But Nicky pleads with him to give Charlotte a little leeway, which he grudgingly agrees to do.

Charlotte ends up getting stuck at the Dillon home due to a massive blizzard, which gives Nicky a chance to get to know the young woman a bit better. We see from their interaction that Nicky is starving for female companionship and guidance, as evidenced by how she daydreams about Charlotte staying with her and Robert forever — and maybe even bringing baby Doris (as the hospital named her) to live with them as well.

Unfortunately, things don’t work out quite so perfectly as that. As the story wends its way to the conclusion, we see a much more realistic ending play out for the Dillons and Charlotte.

Liked:

  • I thought Nicky was a terrific character and narrator. She was actually quite believable as a 12-year-old, even though her story was filtered through the eyes of her adult self. She was neither too precocious nor too baby-like, which was a nice change from how most authors seem to portray kids of that age. I was expecting her to obsess about buying tretinoin gel for her zits or to nag her father to let her go on dates or something, but I’m so glad she didn’t. It was important that this character worked otherwise the whole story would be ruined.
  • The changing dynamic between Robert and Nicky was interesting to watch. I liked how Shreve didn’t go for some overwhelming breakthrough and have Robert suddenly revert to his former self. But he did change, did open up a bit more to Nicky. That part was well done.
  • Detective Warren was used to the proper degree. He wasn’t exactly a menacing character, but he did provide some tension throughout the narrative. The tale would have been very boring without this guy popping in and out.

Disliked:

  • The subject matter didn’t really resonate with me. I know this was a highly personal book, as Shreve herself had a miscarriage and was writing about much of the pain she felt. But I’ve never experienced either kind of tragedy detailed on these pages (knock on wood), so I couldn’t connect with the characters in that way.
  • This story was told from Nicky’s point of view as an adult, but we never got to see how her life turned out. We didn’t learn if she and Robert were closer than before or if he’s even still a part of her life. We didn’t learn what Nicky does, whether she has a family of her own, or even where she lives. It would have been nice to get at least a glimpse into what happened to her.
  • I would have liked to learn what happened to Charlotte, too. Did she and Nicky keep in touch? Did Charlotte serve any jail time despite the abandonment being mostly James’ doing? Did Charlotte eventually get the baby back? The fact that we didn’t get answers to these questions might mean that Nicky herself never knew the answers either.

Rating:

Although Light on Snow by Anita Shreve was a technically sound book that featured good characters and solid writing, I couldn’t fully invest myself in it because I couldn’t relate to the subject matter in a meaningful way. This is not the fault of the author, of course, but the result is that I can only give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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