Second in a projected trilogy (Snow Island, 2002) about the stifling warmth of small-town life.
It’s 1966, the Vietnam War is in full swing and divorcée Rachel Shattuck, 32, is learning to be grateful for the peace of her solitary life. When her hard-drinking father, Nate, breaks his leg, she is at first reluctant to help. Nate is a cantankerous creature, and Rachel blames him for her Down syndrome brother’s institutionalization and her late mother’s unhappiness. Her dutiful nature prevails, however, and she heads back home to Snow Island, an isolated backwater with only one telephone. She is rewarded by finding her mother’s diary, which casts new light on her family history. Towler’s story is at its best in these diary excerpts, bits and pieces that voice the discontents of a traditional wife in a fresh, engaging way. But the narrative spends most of its time with Rachel, a woman too relentlessly nice to provide much impetus for anything as vulgar as a plot. Her friction with boorish Nate is resolved time and again by her retreat with a sigh of lofty aggravation to fix him soup. Brainy, broodingly handsome, 18-year-old Nick falls for her, but at the first whiff of impropriety Rachel backs off, again frustrating the reader. Whenever anything threatens to happen, she takes swift action to reassert the eventless dreariness native to Snow Island, which the author tries unsuccessfully to present as a haven of uncomplicated joys. Throughout the story, the weather is brutal, books are hard to come by and the unintelligent townies make obvious jokes, spy on each other and complain of boredom. Yet the logic of commercial women’s fiction demands that Rachel decide to stay there forever and marry a childhood friend for whom she has lukewarm, sporadic affection; their main point in common is that each prefers to live alone.
Too leaden and conventional to be salvaged by the fine diary sections.