A Review of Snow by Ronald Malfi

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.

Epilogue

                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!

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7 thoughts on “A Review of Snow by Ronald Malfi

  1. Aaron Dalzell says:

    I’m still finishing up this story, but wanted to comment that I agree a thousand percent with your main points, that : A, I to was pissed at seeing all the grammar stuff, not just from Malfi, but the other authors as well. Am I missing something? B, I wish the story was about just mysterious things in the snow, and C, there were a ton of those overused descriptions, while I let it go, I did take notice and it irritated me as well, but I just skipped em when I crossed them.

    The only thing I’ve been enjoying so far, I think the buildup, in the beginning, was wonderful, the winter scenery and atmosphere always is a plus for me, and I really love the way the female characters are done, from badass to more vulnerable, it’s a good variety, but the male characters are pretty run of the mill. I think the bond between Todd and Kate seems natural and doesn’t really bog things down.

    Though, for some reason, I just can’t help but have a certain enjoyment from it, similar to Breeding Ground. I love stories with people trapped in a situation, like The Mist, The Thing, etc. So, while I was peeved, I was still able to just toss the technicals out the window and have fun.

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  2. vanessaessler says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more on this one. The overused words and phrases didn’t really strike me until a few chapters in (probably because I was so involved in the idea of snow being an evil monster), but the whole story just kept slipping down an icy hill of typical for me besides the monsters.

    The monsters did become too much. In a way, I almost wanted this story to focus more on the slow invasion instead of the standard “survive the hoard” plot. How lovely it would have been if Malfi had taken his time and given us more of a gradual reveal of the creatures. At first, they seemed interesting, by the end they seemed like frozen zombies, mixed with snowflake aliens, and a dab of whatever else he though was scary thrown in for good measure. I’ll still take them over the widows in Breeding Ground.

    I was disappointed that so much of the plot and characters was recycled tropes of the genre covered in snow. I didn’t hate it, but I won’t pick up the sequel either. This was ‘meh.’

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  3. Well… We agree agree! Mostly. You caught a lot of the things I did (seriously, the world’s most unnecessary prologue), but I overlooked them because the read was so simple. I mean, I literally overlooked them. It’s was so amateurish and simple, that I flew through the book. I think I enjoyed it slightly more than you, but in the end it was just another book. Not great but certainly not awful.

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  4. lisettegallows says:

    I agree that the story of a slow invasion of the town, with the wiping out of all the citizens (what Malfi tried to do in the flashback with Shawna before he decided a woman alone had to die because clearly there was no one to love and care for her). It might have made the rest of the situation, car broke down in a snow storm, characters desperate for shelter more interesting because the audience would have known what they were walking into. I would also have liked a more active role in the snow in totaling their car.
    Mostly I needed better characters. I completely disagree with Aaron; the women in this were horrible. Nothing was natural about the relationships between Kate and Todd. I had trouble getting through the entire novel, not just because of the repetitive language, but because of the dull characters.

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  5. You continue to amaze me with your ability to pick up all the lazy, crappy bits in everything you read. I guess I’ve been reading half-assed writing for so long my brain is numb to it.
    Or, in this case, if I DID notice all the repetitive phrases, maybe I just assumed Malfi was trying to “set the mood” ala Edgar A. Poe. However, you got me curious so I looked through the book again, and damn if you weren’t right! All the things my writing gets nailed for, like, repetition, filters, awkward grammar — yep, there they are. It IS disheartening to see this kind of stuff published. As we have all been told before, I’m sure — a “great idea” does not a “great story” make.
    Anyway, you are right — the snow monster started off interesting and then got stupidly overdone. Also, the women were awful, and not just for the obvious reason that they were stereotypes. They were awful because the author THOUGHT he was creating great female characters. However, his constant attention to everyone’s nipples just made me feel all icky inside.

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    • lisettegallows says:

      There’s something to be said for having several novels previously published and a good idea, though. I doubt this would have been picked up without another round of developmental editing without his rep.

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  6. I think I’m on along the same line as Vince and overlooked them. To be honest, when I read novels, especially in the RIG, I’m not looking for mistakes. Usually I am just approaching it form the plot standpoint so that I can comment on it. One of the other factors was probably because I split between the book and the car. Sometimes when I am just listening, or multitasking , some of the repetitiveness slips by. As I mentioned in Chad’s post, the only thing that thew me off were the monsters once they took over the skin. I assumed they were zombies, and wondered how they survived in a cold climate.

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