House Under Snow

Jill Bialosky’s House Under Snow is a tale of overwhelming grief. At nineteen Lilly married Lawrence, but in 1961 she, at twenty-five, becomes a widow with three young daughters—Louise, Anna (the narrator), and Ruthie—and no occupational skills. For several years she remains secluded, creating an imaginary life from magazine clippings. But the pressures of unpaid bills and a house in disrepair forces changes. She burns her collection of cutouts from magazines and begins to date numerous men.

Lilly’s goal of finding a husband to care for her and her daughters puts her in the position of creating herself as an object designed to charm and fascinate. She can manipulate men (and boys) but cannot control her own life. Marriage does ensue but is short lived.

Lilly’s grief, occasioned by the death of her husband, has its roots in her own childhood when she, at eight, lost her mother, and in the knowledge that her mother was the only one of her relatives who survived the Nazis. The history of the family is intertwined with tragedy which determines the present. The question arises if the mother cannot escape her sorrow, can the daughters? The sisters have been scarred by the inability of their mother to cope but the novel opens with Anna, as an adult reflecting on her childhood and adolescence as she plans to return to her hometown in Ohio for her wedding, evidence that she has perhaps triumphed over the trauma.

Bialosky, a published poet, has a lyric prose style but the novel suffers from too much telling and not enough showing. Somehow the reader is not made to care about the characters.