Snow

Published March 29, 2012 by Jennifer Loring

Despite having been born in Maine, raised in western New York, and having lived the past 13 years in Pennsylvania, I hate snow. Perhaps it calls up childhood fears of a war ending in nuclear winter or, after reading Carl Sagan’s Comet at age 8, an impact winter thrust upon us by an extraterrestrial body. 2010-2011, the infamous East Coast “Snowpocalypse,” gave us a taste of what it might be like if one had to eke out their survival in a seemingly endless winter. We in Philly were lucky–we didn’t lose power and heat like so many others did, but we were housebound for a couple of days after each storm. I enjoyed the reprieve from work. Wondering if the next storm would rob us of electricity and therefore heat? Not so much.

Like death, snow is unstoppable. It is as cold and white as a corpse. Snow has been used to great effect in work like Peter Straub’s Ghost Story and Tim Lebbon’s White. It is also central to the premise of Ronald Malfi’s Snow, as you might guess from the title. Let’s face it, there aren’t many monsters exclusively associated with snow outside of yetis. In North America we do have the terrifying Algonquian legend of the wendigo, which was where I was hoping this book would go, having written a wendigo story of my own that is currently being subbed. Alas. Instead we have snow spirits with the inexplicable ability to turn their arms into scythes, by which they puppeteer humans who, at that point, pretty much become zombies. I’ll give Malfi credit for his unique mode of zombification. Malfi is a decent writer, but I did not find any of his characters particularly likeable. I have had this problem with more than one book over the course of my three Readings In Genre classes; as Joyce Carol Oates has noted, it tends to plague horror fiction due to the genre’s habit of  placing more importance on the situation or phenomena than on character development.

I enjoyed Malfi’s attitude toward his female characters even less. Honestly, sniping about “women’s lib” because a grown woman does not appreciate being referred to as a “girl?” Yes, how dare we be offended when a man infantilizes us. Unfortunately it is not the book’s only instance of the infantilization of women, and despite the gains women have made in the horror genre, this is an area in which its conservative streak rears its ugly head far too frequently. With the exception of Shawna, who dies anyway as if she’s being punished for presuming to take care of herself, the women spend their time crying and waiting for the men to take any decisive action. It is the stereotype Mort Castle refers to in On Writing Horror as “The Helpless Female,” and horror desperately needs to run away from it and into the 21st century. Kate is virtually pointless as a character, which brings me to another problem I had with the book, and that I have with many horror novels: the forced romantic subplot. Thankfully Kate and Todd do not end up together, though ironically that makes her even more useless. Don’t get me started on sending a man with an injured leg to go after the laptop while the uninjured woman sits around the station looking after the children…as if that’s all a woman is meant to do.

The plot itself is an unremarkable siege story that’s been done to death. When things started looking very Michael Bay toward the end of the book, what with the explosions and fires and so on, I pretty much checked out. Malfi’s writing style is really the only thing that saved this one, but I can’t say I’m sold on reading his other work. Except maybe the one Chris Shearer mentioned.

8 comments on “Snow

  • Yup. Kinda right there with you. I think this guy probably has a good book in him, but I disagreed with his politics and the storyline didn't do much for me. You articulated my complaints better than I did. Good job.

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  • I think I disagree with you regarding the story. I enjoyed it and enjoyed the monsters. Also, I made direct connections with the monster being an offspring of some traditional wendigo myths I've heard: a demon that possess a person and partakes of cannibalism, the hints of the cold transforming into warmth, and if I'm not mistaken, there were points where people were swept away into the storm.However much I liked the story, I agree with you regarding the characters. This could be a great book had the characters not been stereotypical and blank. I almost laughed at the ridiculousness of the men deciding to head out to look for the laptop because I did not follow the logic of why the women had to stay and take care of the kids. Also, the kids were even more blank than the adults. There's something to be said about the kids in Stephen King's and Peter Straub's books–for the most part, they can take care of themselves against evil. In Snow, I just pictured daft youngsters in pajamas, drooling on themselves, watching cartoons, waiting for the monsters to eat them.

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  • There are some tenuous links to the wendigo myth, but not much more than that. The actual myth is much more frightening than anything in this book. Like Joe said in his blog, it's essentially a zombie story. And the plot was pretty stock for a horror novel–Malfi didn't do anything particularly innovative there. Your last sentence about the kids is spot on, though! And hilarious.

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  • Right there with you. I checked out of the book before the "women's lib" comment, but that one made me start skimming. My husband agrees that if zombies were to ever attack, he'd hide behind me. I'm the one that can shoot. Whenever workmen come to our house, they'll look at my husband and say "Hey you got a nice truck and motorcycle in the garage," and he says, "Thanks. They're my wife's." Why is it that we still have to fight these stereotypes?

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  • I loved this book. Go figure, right? Of all the books we read during my three classes, this was probably the big discovery to me, as I'd never before heard of Malfi. Anyway, loved it. Whatever, right? But I also loved your review, as always. For as often as we've disagreed on stuff, I've never failed to see your rational stance on the matter in question. What I really wanted to say — other than LOVE THIS BOOK! — is I'm so happy to hear you have a Wendigo story making the rounds. Very cool. Have you read Algernon Blackwood's wendigo story? I think that's the title. Great story. Chillingly atmospheric.

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  • John's right. That is the title, and you should read it if you haven't. Ron calls this a "Leisure horror novel," and that's what it is. I happen to like those, but it's a very specific type of horror novel all, I believe, modeled after Keene's "The Rising," which you're not a fan of either. I may write about that, but I'm not sure.

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  • Honestly, I didn't even notice gender politics at play, and I'm a pretty independent minded female. Shawna kicked ass, as much as she was able in her condition, and Kate was right in the thick of things for most of the book. In the church scene, she completely took control. Even Nan, before she cracked under the stress, helped to keep her husband calm by letting him think he was soothing her. As for the men going off and leaving the women behind at the end, I didn't feel it was done in a degrading manner. The laptop was Todd's, he'd recognize it before Kate would, and she was a fair shot, a decent choice to guard the fort, as it were. Her only serious failing for me was putting those kids in the police car in the garage…that was just hands-down a stupid move.

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