Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mother's Instinct

Does every girl have a mother hidden within? Does every girl secretly want someone to care for, someone who is totally dependent on her? I remember reading The Indian in the Cupboard when I was 11 or 12, and I spent weeks afterward desperately wishing that I had a pocket sized person that I could fashion clothing and furniture for, that I could scrounge my mother’s kitchen to provide fingernail-sized food for. In Light on Snow, 12 year old Nicky got that wish…for about an hour.

She had been hiking in the woods with her father on a snowy evening in New Hampshire when they heard a cry, which they followed to its source: a newborn infant girl wrapped in a towel and tucked into a sleeping bag on the side of their mountain. The baby was so newly born that she was still covered in birthing fluid and a dangling something that 12 year old Nicky didn’t yet know was an umbilical cord. Her father scooped up the baby and raced to the hospital.

That’s how the story begins. As it unfolds, told through the eyes of a wise young woman, we see her father, a man wrapped in the sorrow of a wife and baby daughter taken from him in a car accident two years before. It is Nicky’s mother and Nicky’s sister too, but Robert Dillon often seems too sunk in his grief to realize that. After they find the baby and undergo the questions of a suspicious detective, Nicky and her father go home. She can’t stop thinking about the baby, wondering if somehow they can take her home and keep her. As Nicky is lost in these thoughts and struck again by fading memories of her mother and baby sister, a young woman shows up at their door: the baby’s mother, who has come to see the man who rescued her abandoned infant and thank him. And she has a tragic story of her own to unravel.

Anita Shreve has written a beautiful novel here, with a very convincing 12 year old narrator. She is wiser than her years, some might say, but she has lived through more heartache than most 12 years olds have. Her story is simply told, with beautiful imagery of the play of light on the snow covered mountains around her, and by the bittersweet end, Nicky has righted some of the wrongs in her life.

By the time I read the last word, I was swallowing hard around a lump in my throat and I had to jump up out of my chair to run upstairs and check on my napping toddler. Because I’m not 12 anymore, and I never did get a pocket sized person to take care of. But I have 3 of the normal sized ones, and they fill my heart to bursting sometimes. And reading about the love Nicky had for a family she lost--and for a family she never had--made me appreciate mine even more.


E-Beth said...

Sounds like a pretty powerful read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on good books you've read. Now I have a couple more books to add to my list.

Stacy said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog! I LOVED the Indiana Cupboard when I was younger - I have the entire set! This book sounds like a great read - I will have to be sure to check it out! I am reading My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult at the moment.

Kir said...

Oh, I love Jodi Picoult, Stacy. I though Sister's Keeper was riveting, as usual, with careful attention to plot (isn't her suspense sharp? Once I start reading one of her novels, I can't put it down) and characters. Have you read any of her other novels?