Book: Whiter Than Snow
Author: Sandra Dallas
Genre: Fiction/Tragedy/Romance/Unity/Small Town Story
Summary (from flap of St. Martin’s Press edition): On a spring afternoon in 1920, Swandyke-a small town near Colorado’s Tenmile Range-is changed forever. Just moments after four o'clock, a large split of snow separates from Jubilee Mountain high above the tiny hamlet and hurtles down the rocky slope, enveloping everything in its path. Meet the residents whose lives this tragedy touches: Lucy and Dolly Patch, two sisters long estranged by a shocking betrayal. Joe Cobb, Swandyke’s only black resident, whose love for his daughter forces him to flee Alabama. Then there’s Grace Foote, who hides secrets and scandal that belie her genteel facade. And Minder Evans, a Civil War veteran who considers cowardice his greatest sin. Finally, there’s Essie Snowball, born Esther Schnable to conservative Jewish parents but who now works as a prostitute and hides her child’s parentage from the world. Fate, chance, and perhaps divine providence all collide in the everyday lives of these people. And ultimately, no one is without sin, no one’s soul is whiter than snow, and no one is without the need for forgiveness. A quintessential American voice and a writer of exquisite historical detail, Sandra Dallas illuminates the resilience of the human spirit in her newest novel.-St. Martin’s Press, 2010
I managed to finish this book fairly quickly, which is surprising considering I wasn't exactly itching to read this book. It's a little less than three-hundred pages, but that can still be considered a lot to people.
Anyway, here we go.
I don't really recall how I picked up this book. The cover was nice (there's a trend here with me and pretty covers) and I was kinda, sorta intrigued by the summary. I think I was also desperate for more books at the time, which also explains why my pile got to be so big in the first place (it's getting smaller though, yay!). In the end, since this book has a winter-related title (ignoring that the main event takes place in the spring), I decided to read this book next. I picked it over the other winter-looking book because it was shorter and because, for once, it was written in third person - a rarity in the books I've read recently.
Needless to say, I went into this book expecting to have to trudge through it; because, even then, I wasn't really into the book and I knew I had to get it out of the pile. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed this book. I wasn't bored and I was hooked for most of the novel. It was a refreshing read that really expanded my palate for different viewpoints of different characters.
As always, this review will be as spoiler free as possible.
So, I'm from the Eastern part of the U.S. It's extremely rare for there to be snow in my state in April. I've never lived near mountains so I have no idea how avalanches work. I mean, I've hiked plenty of mountains, but that's in the summer and not one of them has been high enough to actually keep snow all year. I don't ski either so I've never truly seen mountains in the winter.
I'm afraid there is one thing I must give away, but I don't feel that bad spoiling it because you find this out in the very first chapter. The story begins by describing the town of Swandyke (which, for some reason, I kept reading in my head as Swandy-dyke) and, eventually, the avalanche that consumes the road leading past the mine. The avalanche consumes nine children that are walking home from school. The reader is told that only four of the nine children survive.
The children are the key to the story. The reader is then introduced to the parents of the children by finding out the history of the parents. It is only by knowing the history of each parent that the events after the avalanche can be understood and appreciated. Each chapter is dedicated to the history of each parent. You'll find the names of the parents in the summary. Even though the book is a little less than three-hundred pages, there are only eight chapters: one chapter to introduce the story, five chapters that focus on a different parent, and two chapters that focus on the aftermath of the avalanche. It's all very straightforward.
What I like about this story is that everyone is flawed. No one is completely guiltless. While each character has something likeable about them, there is also a flaw that keeps you from liking them completely. I also liked how I couldn't connect with every character either. There are just some experiences, some life stories, that I will never be able to identify with. I can sympathize, but I can never truly, entirely understand. Sandra Dallas is a great writer in that she gives each parent an individual voice. No one sounds alike, even when the parents eventually interact with each other. In this way, the characters who have similar experiences can identify with each other and help each other in ways other characters can't. This book is about relationships and I think Dallas writes them well. Her strength is in crafting character backgrounds and histories that are full and multi-layered.
My only problem with this novel is that she doesn't develop all of the characters' backgrounds completely. She fully develops the beginning characters while leaving some later ones a bit lacking. I wish I knew more about some of the later characters. Some things just seem...missing. If you read the book, I'm sure you'll know which ones I'm talking about. I'm sure there can be an argument that Dallas only includes the details which are necessary to the main plot line (the whole avalanche thing), but there are some extraneous details in the first few background chapters that are never mentioned in the later chapters so it couldn't hurt to add more detail to the later background chapters.
Also, the story was a bit difficult to read at first because, since I didn't know that children would be dying in this book, I happened to finish the first chapter the day of the Newtown, CT tragedy. The real life events made me a little scared to continue the book, since I didn't know how Dallas would show the grief of the parents whose children didn't survive. I know the two events are vastly different, but the outcome is still tragic. I think Dallas portrayed the grief of the parents well, though I'm not too sure what that "well" really means. It's one of those life experiences that I can't identify with (as I'm young) and I don't completely understand. Still, I think the message that Dallas is trying to convey is that out of great tragedy rises the unity, brotherhood, and resilience of the human spirit. It's a balm to the soul, even if it can't heal the wound completely. In that respect, she did a great job.
Overall, I give Whiter Than Snow an A-.
Please support the author by buying the book or borrowing it from a local library or friend.
I'm happy that I've been able to complete two books out of my proposed three for the winter break. With even greater luck, I'll be able to finish a fourth.
Thanks for reading!