My Review of Snow Angels by Stewart O'Nan
This is a story that links two families, almost indirectly, by a tragedy that affects them in enormously painful ways. Set in a rural community in Pennsylvania in mid-1970, the story is built around the lives of the two main characters, Arthur Parkinson and Annie Marchand. Arthur, who is the narrator of the chapters about his part in this heartbreaking story, is a 14-year-old high school student who is dealing with his family's slowly decaying break up. At the same time, a narrator who gives us the picture of her dismal, failing marriage and careless lifestyle, tells Annie's chaotic story.
Arthur and his older sister Astrid are the children of parents who are selfish and immature, putting their needs ahead of their children. As Arthur's mother decides to divorce his father, the life Arthur knows begins to change. Moving and their resulting socio-economic situation only add to Arthur's problems as he tries to confront his involvement in Annie's story. Adolescence, confusion, fear, and torment all play into Arthur's mental state during this time. The events in his life during these years are only overshadowed by the awful part that involves Arthur in Annie's heartbreaking calamity. Whereas Annie Marchand was once the delightful babysitter to Arthur and Astrid, she soon inadvertently becomes the center of many of the problems for this family and especially Arthur.
Annie, meanwhile, grows up to marry Glenn Marchand and her imprudent and neglectful acts soon result in her leaving Glenn, despite how it may effect her daughter, Tara. Although Glenn tries in his own somewhat feeble way to reconcile with Annie, who he loves, she rejects his efforts. In fact, she goes as far as to having an affair with Brock who is one of her own friend's boyfriends. Annie, proves to be even more selfish than one can imagine to the point that she neglects even Tara. This results in tragic consequences that lead to the beginning, and the end, of this tormented tale. Annie's future is one that she herself brings about through her actions. And yet, O'Nan's treatment of Annie's character can still leave one with sympathy for her.
In the end, we find Arthur questioning still what really has gone on and how things happened. Arthur feels that perhaps if he concentrates on the details of the past few years that are described in the book, that perhaps he "will finally understand everything that happened back then" and yet he goes on to say that he knows he can't. This leaves us with great sympathy for Arthur who turns out to be somewhat of an innocent bystander to all that goes on around him due in fact to all the other characters' actions.
Snow Angels by Stewart O'Nan is one of his earliest works. Recently having previewed his soon to be released Songs for the Missing and going back to read Last Night at the Lobster, I wasn't sure what to expect with Snow Angels. I was pleasantly relieved to find that Snow Angels fell in line with my opinion of O'Nan as based on Last Night at the Lobster, instead of the extremely disappointing Songs for the Missing. With Snow Angels Stewart O'Nan gives us the same working class characterizations that made me love his "Lobster" book and allows the reader to relate to the story and want to finish reading it without stopping. This is a story that will stay with the reader for a long time, as it will with me.
Submitted originally to Curledup.com by K. Haney, June, 2008