Let’s begin with a Q&A: you are driving in a blizzard in the middle of the night when someone steps in front of your vehicle. You avoid hitting him but damage your car’s radiator. The person you almost ran down is injured and incoherent and claims his child is lost in the snow. To make matters worse, he is acting suspiciously and you suspect he may not be telling the truth. It is the 21stcentury and you have a cell phone. What’s the first thing you do?
- Try to call the cops.
- Try to call the cops.
- Try to call the cops.
- Turn to the senior citizen you met a few hours ago at the airport and say – Just help me keep an eye on this guy, all right?
Over 90% of the population would answer A through C (it doesn’t matter which). If you answered D, you are a character in a horror novel and will die horribly.
Wait a second! Aren’t I being harsh here? Isn’t this a nitpick? Well, that depends on your tolerance level for horror tropes vs. normal human behavior. I will note that the Scooby Gang pull their vehicle out of a snowbank before one of the characters reaches for a cell phone (p. 41). Every minute they delay is time the police – who have the resources necessary to muster a manhunt – could be looking for the missing child, who turns out to be quite real.
Before I proceed any further with this review let me say that I think Mr. Malfi is a talented writer. I admire his writing style. He uses a lot of action verbs, he is a decent word painter, his pacing is good and his dialogue sounds realistic. I enjoyed his horror novel Little Girls, a homage to J-horror cinema with a smidgen of Peter Straub’s Julia mixed in. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy Snow. What didn’t work for me about this book? A lot of little things, but they added up.
My biggest issue is the fact that the plot and character arcs never merge. What am I talking about? I’ll use The Shining as an example. Danny Torrance has two problems in The Shining– his first problem is the fact that his family is falling apart (personal), the second is that they’ve moved into a haunted house (plot). At the end of The Shining, the plot and character arcs merge when Danny’s father becomes the haunted house’s monster.
This doesn’t occur in Snow. Todd Curry is a gambling addict, but what happens to him is the equivalent of a supernatural hit-and-run. Yes, he rolls the dice by renting that car, but he wants to see his son. I thought it was a stupid decision myself, but he made a promise to his child that he wanted to keep. Totally understandable.
I didn’t think Todd’s gambling problem was realistic. Let’s put aside the question of how it affects the plot. You’re telling me he put himself through law school by betting the horses? Really? I have bet on the ponies perhaps a half-dozen times in my life, and the best system I’ve ever seen comes courtesy of my great aunt. She would bet two dollars on the favorite to show, and invariably won her money back. She’d leave the track about five bucks richer. Somehow I doubt Todd used this system.
The logistics of Todd’s gambling problem are more troubling. If he lives in New York City, the nearest racetrack is in Yonkers (along with a casino). There is also a racetrack in Monticello, New York and East Rutherford, New Jersey. All three of these racetracks are closer than Atlantic City. Is this a nitpick? I live in this area, so no it’s not. Max Brooks hauled his ass to Yonkers to get the details right.
I’d argue that Todd’s gambling addiction is unnecessary to the plot. You could replace it with a thousand other character flaws and it would make no difference. The fact that Todd is a screw-up isn’t even reflected in the plot. He just wants to visit his son, who isn’t mad at all about not seeing his dad for a year. Todd’s wife is a little angrier, but she gives him a leg massage at the book’s end so I’m guessing all is forgiven.
I didn’t buy Todd at all as a character. Usually male authors struggle writing women, but I thought Kate was much more realistic than Todd. She has boundary and intimacy issues because of her parents’ divorce, and they are the type of issues that don’t magically go away.
Todd’s phone call to his ex-wife is another one of those little things. Brianna lives in Iowa, so she knows about driving in the snow. Driving in that type of weather is stupid and dangerous, but all she says is that a good idea? It’s an awful idea and she knows it. If she cares at all about him they should argue about him venturing out into the snow.
Here’s another one: Todd gets hit in the head and wakes up. Twice. What normally happens if you get hit in the head is that you go into a coma and die. He also blacks out when they blow up the gas station and (assumedly) when he gets shot. He’s a tough guy.
Okay, I’ve made my point. Snow did not work for me. I will say that this book is chockful of examples of bad parenting, and you can view Molly shooting Todd at the end as karmic retribution for being a shitty parent. To me this doesn’t work, because Todd wakes up (again!) and is greeted by his adoring wife and son.
4 Replies to “Snow”
George, I always enjoy reading your reviews. I loved Kate and Malfi did a great job with writing her. I think I forgave a lot about Todd because I was more interested in Kate. I do have to agree that Todd’s gambling could have been left out. If Malfi had used that more in the story as to why the people around him died then that might have worked. I did overall enjoy the story. I think Malfi’s use of words is what really saved this story.
I didn’t have room in my “thoughts about how this book didn’t work” review to talk about the gambling addiction issue, but you’re absolutely right. Compulsive gamblers do not earn to the point where they support their families/grad school bills. Why? Because they’re compulsive. They don’t earn enough to pay off their school bills and then say, “OK, then, i’m done for the day!” They stay until they run out of chips. And I thought of the Shining, as well, and how skillfully King wove Jack’s drinking problem into the overall story, and how that didn’t happen here. Todd’s gambling issue felt like a personality quirk for its own sake, that didn’t add at anything to the story. Todd’s bad decision making didn’t come across as evidence of his gambling issues. He came across as a guy who didn’t know what the hell he was doing, but didn’t let that stop him from taking actions he couldn’t reverse.
The book worked for me more than it didn’t, but I agreed it had a tallying problem. There were a few things about Malfi’s style that began to compound, so much so it became a stumbling block every time I came across them. I didn’t even pick up on the cellphone thing, but even if they had tried, I think there’s a good chance that cloud thing would have blocked the call anyways. What bothered me more about Todd was that, as a protagonist, he didn’t really have much to do with saving the day. A deputy runs towards the gas tank to sacrifice himself and kill all the monsters before they return to the mothership, Todd didn’t even come up with the idea. All your points are important and probably would have lowered my rating had I been aware of it at the time.
I did enjoy the audiobook of Snow, but I think when listening on audiobook my mind glosses over many glaring book problems. Perhaps it is because I am doing other things while listening. Many of the books this term, I would have never gotten through had I not “listened” my way to the end.
I agree with you on many points here though. The gambling issues and the fact that his ex-wife is not even concerned about this guy driving in the snow were odd. It seemed as if they were things the author just tossed in there just of the hell of it or things (threads) that were never tied up, nor deleted from the manuscript. Feels like Malfi gave his guy a flaw just to give him one, and picked it at random. It had no impact on the story whatsoever.