I was scrolling through the list of bargain books, looking for something inexpensive to make up the difference between total cost of the items already selected and the $25 amount required for free shipping. But price wasn’t the only criteria; I was also looking for something different–a new author, a fresh journey, a change of pace from the tales of mystery, fantasy and science fiction that are my usual companions. Having a sense of what I wanted to experience in my next book, but no idea of who wrote that kind of story, I thought I had given myself a fool’s errand, but luckily this historical novel struck my fancy and it turned out to be exactly what I wished for.
Although it may sound like an odd requirement for a work of fiction, I wanted a story about real people and everyday life. I wanted a story I could easily loose myself in without the need to recognize and assemble clues or the mental challenge of learning a new world with it’s foreign geography, rules and language. I wanted a fictional story that felt like it really could have happened (as opposed to some novels I’ve read set in “the real world” than seemed more fantastic than books labeled “Fantasy”). Sandra Dallas definitely delivered all that and more in Whiter Than Snow.
The dialogue in this novel impressed me. Not only do the events take place more than one hundred years ago, they involve a fairly diverse cast of characters and Dallas manages to make the voices unique without writing thick dialects that can make reading cumbersome. I liked that the book was honest without being sordid and insightful without being pretentious. But perhaps what I found most refreshing was the characters’ feelings about and discussions of God. I have read some novels that seem more concerned with explaining “proper” theology, rather than realistically reflecting people’s reaction to God in the face of tragedy. But in the aftermath of Swandyke’s avalanche, there were no easy answers that made everything better, and instead of living “happily ever after”, it was more like the finding the will to live despite the crushing pain.
I really enjoyed this story. I loved looking through the telescope of historical fiction at places I’m familiar with in present day. I cared about the characters. When I reached the last page I was disappointed that I wouldn’t experience more of their stories, because while the book ends at a good narrative break, several characters’ lives were moving in very different directions and I wanted to see where they went. But the slice of their lives that I did taste was a treat and, on a personal level, made me grateful for the incredible opportunities and ordinary blessings in my own life. Good books can be as effective as foreign travels in shifting your perspective on everyday life.
Blurb (from the 2010 hardcover 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.
First line: No one knew what triggered the Swandyke avalanche that began at exactly 4:10 p.m. on April 20, 1920.
I would recommend this book to: Anyone who likes historical American fiction. Anyone looking for a book that explores how the diverse threads of individual lives end up tied together in a small Western town.
Would I read it again: Yes.
My personal rating: 4 out of 5