In the opening pages of Jenny Milchman's "Cover of Snow" (Ballantine Books, New York), Nora Hamilton wakes to find that her policeman husband Brendan has hanged himself.
She has no clue as to what might have triggered such a tragic act. There had been no signs of depression, no new stresses mentioned at work, no marital problems. For the rest of the book, she searches
As would be expected in a mystery, there are more questions than answers along the way. Possibilities arrive in a haphazard manner, as Nora seeks information from relatives, Brendan's co-workers, and others in the community. Her relationship with her mother-in-law is as chilly as the winter weather.
A young man with an autistic disorder becomes a surprise confidante of sorts. A reporter newly arrived in town drifts in and out of the action.
This first novel has strengths, but it also has issues.
Narration, except for a few short chapters, is in first person. The shock and confusion that followed her husband's gruesome death come across vividly.
However, I never felt a sense of knowing Nora's character sufficiently well. When details begin to add up in the story and the action progresses, I rolled with the plot but
never felt very invested in the protagonist.
I did become intrigued by several of the secondary characters, including Nora's irrepressible sister Teggie and her husband's Aunt Jean. These well-drawn, if sparing, portraits added considerably to my enjoyment.
The story conjures up a realm of paranoia, with Nora increasingly uncertain whom to trust. I freely admit I didn't figure out many answers on my own. It took a while for the plot to build, and I occasionally found myself floundering amidst loose ends. The author eventually does tie together most of the fragments of information -?and there are plenty -?that she dropped along
Sense of place can be one of those elusive things. This book is set in the Adirondacks, and the descriptions of winter with its storms and icy roads will ring familiar with anyone living in northern New York. Milchman describes snow and cold vividly enough to make the average
reader long for a few months in Florida.
But there are tough winters in Maine and North Dakota, too, and there's not a lot more that truly roots this in the Adirondacks. Even the name of the locale, Wedeskyull, sounds more akin to, say, the Dutch place names of the Catskill region. It might not matter. This is more a
tale of small towns - albeit small towns with sinister underpinnings - than it is of a specific region.
The premise for the novel is a good one. Milchman created an atmosphere of foreboding and uneasiness sufficient to keep me reading, and even ruin at least one night's sleep! Although I have my qualms about this particular book, I look forward to reading her next work.
This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.