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.