The Snowman’s Children by Glen Hirshberg
This book is not what I expected from Hirshberg. It has no supernatural elements, which puts it more in the realm of literary fiction than horror fiction. (Bret Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park has a great deal more WTF going on than The Snowman’s Children.) Thankfully, though, Hirshberg’s signature brand of foreboding creepiness is there, because childhood is often an unsettling place to be.
Roughly, half the book is set in 1994, the other in 1977-78. In the winter of ’77-78, Mattie Rhodes innocently does something terrible that affected his family and friends in a profound way. In ’94, he returns to his childhood home to gain closure. As a good writer should, Hirshberg doesn’t tell us what Mattie did until the last 100 pages.
As with the stories in The Two Sams, the physical setting is very evocative. Michigan, October-March, is a landscape of snow and ice and slush. I’ve trick-or-treated in my winter coat and trudged over March snowbanks. I know this kind of winter. This might be the perfect book to read in Arizona in June-July.
The chronological setting is also very important. I’m a little tempted to compare this book to some of Stephen King’s stories, such as “The Body,” but King’s childhood settings are a sort of easy mode. He expects us to view the late ’50s and early ’60s with rose-colored glasses and then shows us the cancer in the bud. Hirshberg puts us down in the late ’70s when, with the advent of rabid nation-wide news media, it became a little scary to be a kid. The eponymous Snowman is a fictionalization of the Oakland County Child Killer that struck Michigan in ’76-’77. I’m too young to remember that, but closer to home I do remember Johnny Gosch from Des Moines, IA who disappeared in ’82. (This was after, more nationally notable, Adam Walsh’s disappearance.) What Hirshberg does is take that grim environment and show us that kids remained kids. Trick-or-treating became more of a thrill, games like “murder in the dark” became de jure.
In many ways, the character of Mattie is a bit of a psychopath. He’s very selfish in his actions while claiming to help and totally lacking comprehension of consequences. I’m not sure if that was Hirshberg’s intent, but that what I read and I like it. The weakest part of this book was showing the immediate fallout from Mattie’s childhood actions. It’s a few interstitial scenes that I know are hard to do. On the other hand, Hirshberg doesn’t rush the end of the book, something I appreciate as a reader and writer.
Bookmark: The shipping info from the PBS transaction (it was a perfect fit folded over) and the dustcover.