Snow by Ronald Malfi
This is the toughest review I’ve had to write so far. I think because in all honesty, I am ambivalent about this book. I was really excited to read it, because multiple times in this class I have mentioned how I think a setting or nature itself can be a monster. So with the premise that snow is the bad guy, I eagerly dove in. What I discovered was half a book that felt like a rough draft in need of a good editor, a story line that felt way too familiar, a very cool, unique but also kind of confusing monster, an ending that felt cut short and an unrealistic and completely unnecessary epilogue.
The book starts with a prologue introducing us to the horror that is occurring in a small Midwestern town. On page two, when I read the words “antitheft mirror” for the third time, I went back and started underlining the repetitive words, pretty much like I do when I do my critiques. But hey, how many alternatives are there for antitheft mirror? I tried to give him credit but then there was the odd use of the word tallow as an adjective. That stood out because frankly, I’d never seen it used in that way. So by the third time Malfi used it in the book, I had started keeping hash-marks in the back cover.
By the time we meet Todd Curry and Kate Jansen, the word repeats were pulling me out of the story to grab my pen more times than Mr. Malfi would like me to tell you. Here’s a sentence fragment from the first paragraph of Chapter One: “A digital white mass blipped across the state, moving in staggered increments across the screen….” I’d like to say I am just being nitpicky because otherwise I was intrigued at the beginning. But Malfi uses the same words over and over, the same descriptors so often that if I had to read about the red and black flannel shirt one more time, I swore I was going to shut the book for good. I get angry with authors who do this, because I am sweating my edits, I’m constantly on the lookout for these easy-to-fix mistakes. Why does he get to have his book published with such sloppy workmanship? If only I had “arms with twin scythes, like curved blades” I might have shredded the book for overuse of phrases like that. And then, just when I thought he was over his echolalia, Malfi finds a new love in the form of similes. Page 122 held the following similes: Like a skull on fire (PS it actually was a skull on fire), Like a fiery ember, Like a looming thunderhead, Like burning rubber, Like human waste set ablaze, Like the arms of a praying mantis, Like headlights. Yeah, all of those on a single page, and there’s more on the next page too. I don’t know, I was so taken aback by all this technical sloppery (yeah, I made that word up but hey, it can’t be any worse than tallow as an adjective) that I had a hard time concentrating on the story.
The story though, is one of a small group of travelers/survivors who find themselves stranded in a town where seemingly most of the population has been body-snatched by snow monsters. As in the snowflakes coalesce into solid forms with “arms with twin scythes, like curved blades” that slash open a person’s back and enter like stepping into a surgical gown (or straight jacket). They then take over the body and use it until the body is too damaged to be utilized. So, a cross between Breeding Ground, Night of the Living Dead, The Thing, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Todd, an estranged father just trying to get to his son Justin (who lives with his ex-wife Bree) and Kate who is trying to get to her fiancé Gerald (a safe but unexciting option) and his tedious family are the novel’s budding love story, with the underlying tension of will they or won’t they (find a safe place away from the snow monsters to get it on)? They meet up with a lovely but doomed from the start older couple Nan and Frank in their attempt to drive through the snowstorm that cancelled their flights.
In a completely unforeseeable turn of events (sarcasm alert), they wreck the car into a snowbank and it is totaled. Here they meet a man stumbling around like a zombie in a red and black flannel shirt. He’s weird and everyone knows it. Then he disappears into the woods with a faceless child. And so the befuddled foursome wander on in to Woodson, a town overrun by snow and the monsters that came with it. This part of the book is basically The Thing, filled with monsters invading people, gore, and paranoia.
I’m not going to retell the story but I would like to take a moment and ruminate on the snow monsters themselves. Because a monster made of snow could be really cool unless the author tries to make it into too many monsters in one, leaving the reader wondering how it all works. I loved the initial description of snowflakes coalescing to become this man-shaped thing with long bladed arms to cut into your back where it enters and wears you like a Snuggie. (See, Malfi? I’ve used Snuggie, a surgical gown, and straight jacket to describe the way it enters you rather than using the same descriptor over and over). And I loved how the snow could also form a big worm like creature a la Tremors and roll along like a wave. But that’s it. Stop. No more. Use the flame flower on the shadow grey snow figure to melt it, let the snow fly up and out of the body when the “skin-suit” gets ruined. Why did he have to go and give it some weird, solid insect/worm like body that only appears when you set it on fire? Why can’t it just be some strange snow storm monster? Now I have to wonder if it is alien because of the Night Vale-esque “Glow Cloud” that the skin suits seem to be receiving instructions from, or is it some form of bioterrorism? Why can’t it just be snow? That’s the title of the book isn’t it? I mean a bad snow storm can knock out cell phones, wifi, etc. We don’t need anything else. It was the one really unique part of the book.
The end felt rushed and unsettled. One kamikaze blows up the town and all the monsters that aren’t charred up dead, retreat (but here’s where I am left wondering if that’s what made them retreat or if they got a message from the glow cloud). At the same time, the military shows up and as Todd and Kate retreat to the safety of the belated government, a disgruntled survivor shoots him. When Todd awakens, he discovers that many Midwest towns were overrun by snow monsters and are all now safe. The government is still investigating, of course, so there’s no closure. And Kate, his girlfriend for now (who seemed to have fallen for him throughout the book as the formula for two survivors of the opposite sex says has to happen) kisses him on the forehead, tells him to have a good life and leaves with her fiancé. Well, alrighty then. But it’s ok, because Bree is there to rub his thigh.
But wait! There’s an epilogue. A woman pumping gas runs into a man wearing a red and black flannel shirt who is traveling with his daughter (whose face-or lack thereof– is in the shadows). She is unnerved by them and his box of Band-Aids that are “for later” (did I miss something here?) and vows to call the police with his license number when she gets home. Then we are told, she forgets.
I guess, Red and Black flannel shirt man (ok, ok, his name is/was Eddie Clement) didn’t get the memo from the glow cloud. Or maybe…just maybe…Malfi was planning a sequel: Winter is Coming!