caution: this is not a short review.
Anna Cayne had moved here in August, just before our sophomore year in high school, but by February she had, one by one, killed everyone in town. So begins this beautiful, tragic, maddening novel. If I've ever come across a better first line, it currently escapes me. And, believe it or not, the novel gets even better than this. But, to give you a bit of back story before I leap into my unending praise:
It is said that Anna Cayne was born in a thunderstorm. A slightly spooky and complicated high school girl with a penchant for riddles, short wave radios, Houdini tricks, and ghost stories, Anna spends much of her time writing obituaries for every living person in town. She is unlike anyone the narrator has ever been with, and they make an unlikely, though happy, pair.*
Until Anna disappears, a week before Valentine's day. There is no evidence left behind except for a neatly placed dress near a hole in the frozen river, and no one is certain what's happened to Anna- murder, suicide, runaway- but the narrator is desperate to find out, especially as anonymous packages and coded messages continue to reach him. As Simple As Snow is a tale of love, of mystery, of ghosts, and of codes.
So much of this story is a mystery that it's a bit hard to write about. Anna, to start with the obvious, is the most enigmatic character I have ever encountered- not only in her disappearance, but in everything that precedes it- her bruises, her peculiar habits, her postcards and packages and notes, her riddles and her on again/off again tattoo. As she puzzles the narrator, the reader is left hopelessly confused as well- but hooked, captivated from their first conversation. Of course, Anna isn't the the only mystery here by a long shot. The narrator is never named, for one thing, which is even more infuriating here then it is in Rebecca, because of Anna's tantalizing hints. And actually figuring the name out posed even more questions- and more crazy theories. Even the acknowledgements are written in a code, mentioned earlier as belonging to Houdini and his wife (with the author's apologies to Harry and Bess). But while all of this makes me mad in both senses of the word, I love it. All of this is what makes the book impossible to put down, at least with obsessing over it for every second it's not in your hand. This is a book that you (I, anyway) stay up until 1:30 in the morning finishing, have nightmares about, and start thinking about again as soon as the alarm clock goes off 5 hours later.
Well. That's, at least, one of the things that make this novel so amazing.
The characters are multifaceted and fascinating. Anna- impossible, enigmatic, twisted Anna- is more compelling than any character I've ever read about. Her riddles, her lies, her answered questions; she has no equal in the worlds of any of the other books I've read. And Anna is only the beginning. There's Claire, the girl who is too sweet to be a Goth; Carl, the most popular guy in school, a drug dealer, and the narrator's only friend; Bryce Druit, Mr. Devon, and their inexplicable relationships with Anna; the complex and utterly screwed-up parents of Carl, Anna, and the narrator. Our storyteller himself, who very early on assures us that he is 'bland as milk- or, worse, water' establishes himself otherwise almost immediately.
And, of course, I can't resist a good love story. What I like about Ana and the narrator's relationship, first of all, is that it starts nearly right away- there is a minimal amount of the whole pining and chasing and ridiculousness that is seen in nearly every book out there. Everything about their courtship is so straightforward, so to the point. So simple. The contrast between this and the complexities of the novel and the relationship itself is brilliant. Also, there is nothing gushy or cutesy about Anna and the narrator's interactions,and yet they are an incredibly endearing couple. Their intelligent banter, their twisted manner of flirting- there is an intimacy to the way they talk, and it though neither of them once say it, it is undeniable that they love each other. And you- or, I, anyway, once again- find yourself thinking: this is what matters. This is what perfect is: not roses, not getting on an airplane with someone at a moment's notice, not landing the gorgeous guy or the most romantic first kiss or the biggest engagement ring. This. Conversations like those. That is perfect. That is love. And it is utterly devastating when it comes to an end.
The writing is exceptional. I regretted checking this book out of the library as soon as I started it- there is something on practically every page that merits annotation, hearts and underlines and scribbled thoughts. I will definitely be needing my own copy of this. Galloway writes with skill, with feeling, with beauty. As clever and as well thought out as the story clearly is, it never seems contrived. It feels so real, in fact, that I have to wonder whether I'm so sure it's not.
Yet another mystery.
But Anna sums that up better than I could if I tried to re-write this review for a lifetime:
"It's almost more fun not knowing," she said, "if you knew what it all meant, then it might not be as interesting or compelling. That's probably half the fun, not knowing. Sometimes there's more in the mystery of things than anything else."
Five overflowing cups of coffee could not bring me the same sense of euphoria as this book. No lie.
Go. Read this book.
And if you already have, uh... please email me or something so we can chat about it because I need to discuss this with someone.
ever so glad to be making her comeback,