Ronald Malfi's Snow is a thrilling horror novel that uses both isolation and the monster within to great effect. The majority of the novel takes place in Woodson, a small town outside of Chicago, where the local population has been possessed by strange creatures who appear to be a part of winter itself. It starts off with a fantastic prologue featuring my favorite character, Shawna, and then shifts to Todd Curry as we learn about his struggle to see his son on Christmas. It was the pairing of these two narratives that interested me the most.
Before I get in to my nitpicks, I just want to say that I had a fantastic time reading this. I flew through the pages, and the pacing and descriptions are out of this world! But since I was reading this with a critical eye I tried to see how I would approach the same concept.
If you're sitting down to write a novel like this then Shawna's story seems like the obvious focus. She was born in Woodson, and she was there from the beginning. One day, people started disappearing and before long everyone she knew was trying to kill her. In the prologue she shoots her lover in the head before he can kill her. This is the stuff of raw emotional horror where people are forced to make terrible choices for survival. Because of this I was intensely drawn to Shawna's struggle. This is a real accomplishment considering how little time we actually spend with her.
Todd, the actual protagonist, has a more roundabout setup. In fact, it reminded me of the setup for the Steve Martin and John Candy movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. In that film Martin is trying to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving but the flight is diverted because of the weather. He is then forced to pair up with Candy as the two make their way across the country. But Snow isn't a comedy even though it has similar beats in the beginning.
The emotional anchor in Todd's story is that he's a deadbeat dad who has made a promise to his son to be there on Christmas morning. This would be fine in a comedy, but for a horror novel it left me wanting something more. Sure, it would be bad if Todd broke his promise but there isn't a sense of life and death behind it. Without greater stakes from the get go the entire push lacks a certain amount of tension. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it so much if Shawna's story wasn't so emotionally charged.
But like I said, this was a fun read. I liked how we pulled back at the end and gained a wider picture of the storm of monsters that blanked the Midwest. Since I've lived through several of these storms, minus the monsters, it was easy to get swept along with this chilling narrative full of fantastic, horror infused imagery.