Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Snow Angels / by Stewart O'Nan

Born in Pittsburgh in 1961, Stewart O'Nan graduated with a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from Boston University and nearly a decade working and teaching in the field prior to taking up writing at the prodding of his wife. Although he's been a successful novelist in the years since he began writing, perhaps his most notable accomplishment was the book Faithful, based on the World Series run of the 2004 Boston Red Sox he penned along with Stephen King. O'Nan would call the effort "the luckiest thing I've ever done". His first novel Snow Angels, published in 1994 to great applause, follows a Pennsylvania teenager who's parents are in the process of getting a divorce.

In 1974, Arthur Parkinson is fourteen years old and not exactly enjoying life. Along with having to grow up in a generally dreary Pennsylvania town, Arthur is currently witnessing the disintegration of his parents's marriage. His father's moved out of the house and in with a new girlfriend and his mom just can't seem to handle it. Not that he's especially close to them in the first place. On more than one occasion, they seem to completely forget about Arthur, failing to pick him up from school or at his part-time job then arguing between them over who's fault it was. His job isn't so bad actually. He gets to work with Annie, his former babysitter and lifelong crush, who's a good friend even though she's married with a small child. Unknown to Arthur, however, is that everything's not quite OK for Annie at the moment. Her husband Glenn, her high school crush, is mentally unstable and has a bit of a drinking problem. Recently just out of a psychiatric hospital and currently living with his parents, Glenn wants to see the couple's daughter Tara more and even patch things up with Annie who, unbeknownst to anyone, is having an affair with the husband of a co-worker. It doesn't take too long for the pot to boil over and everything to become one big mess. When Tara goes missing one afternoon, all hell breaks loose with Glenn a suspect and the whole town set out to search for the missing girl. And that's when Arthur makes the discovery that will change everything.

Snow Angels is eerily similar to Rick Moody's The Ice Storm (FIC MOODY), a book later made into an award-winning film by Ang Lee starring Kevin Kline and Elijah Wood. Both were published in 1994, both are set in the 1970's, take place amidst obvious winter weather in the northeastern US and they both feature high domestic drama of a tragic nature. And still there's more. Each offer the same sort of intersecting family crises involving adults and infidelity cross cut by curious adolescents engaged in early relationships. In all factuality, this seems merely a coincidence with no real recognition of the fact other than a fledgling article about both books being a sort of Yuppie fiction. The style and narrative of Snow Angels is a little different from Ice Storm. Alternating chapters present Arthur in the first person and then the Marchand clan in omniscient third person. It's not something you see a lot of books and on the whole it works OK; if there's a problem with the novel it's not the prose. It's the way the intended character intersection doesn't quite make it. The circumstances don't really meet and it's more a case of two individual stories than one well integrated plot. Snow Angels is also a 2007 movie starring Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell which has received generally favorable reviews. (FIC O'NAN)

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