Snow Blind by Elizabeth Strout, 2013
The magic trick:
Showing a woman go from feeling to thinking to re-thinking over the course of her life
Yet another brilliant story from the pages of the Virginia Quarterly Review.
So there’s a line midway through the story that says that our young protagonist “felt this more than she thought it, the way children do.”
It’s a very smart line, the kind of thing that fiction can teach us. It’s a great way of looking at how we experience childhood. It’s also crucial to the way the story is set up. We have this opening section where Annie, our protagonist, is a kid, and this is the section where our aforementioned quote applies: she’s feeling things but doesn’t totally even realize what she’s thinking. Then the story jumps forward 20 years or so. Annie is now an adult coming back home, and surely by then she has had a chance to consider her childhood in a more analytical way. She’s thinking, not just feeling, now.
And then in the final section of the story, we go a step further. She gets some surprises about her family, notably about her father. And these surprises throw all those thoughts into a chaos. So it becomes a feel/think/re-think process for her that’s demonstrated really well through the three sections of the story. And that’s quite a trick on Strout’s part.
It seemed to be forever, the white snow around them, her grandmother next door lying on her couch wanting to die, Annie still the one who chattered constantly. She was now an inch short of six feet and thin as a wire, her dark hair long and wavy. Her father found her one day behind the barn and he said, “I want you to stop going off into the woods the way you do. I don’t know what you’re up to there.” Her amazement had more to do with the disgust and anger of his expression. She said she was up to nothing. “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you Annie, you stop, or I’ll see to it you never leave this house.” She opened her mouth to say, Are you crazy, but the thought touched her mind that maybe he was, and this frightened her in a way she had not known a person could be frightened. “Okay,” she said. But it turned out she could not stay away from the woods on days when the sun was bright.
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