Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: The Snow Fox by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

Title: The Snow Fox
Author: Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Published: 2005
Pages: 438

Rating: 3 out of 10

I am always hesitant about starting long books by an author that I do not know, because I have a sometimes regrettable need to finish every single book that I begin, no matter what. And if a very long book is awful from the beginning, I just know that I'll have to torture myself through the rest of it.

The Snow Fox was such a book.

It is the odd story of a coldly beautiful woman, Lady Utsu, in medieval Japan, and the men who love and obsess over her. Lord Norimasa longs to possess her, while Matsuhito spends his life wishing that they could have been together.

For the first half of the book, dominated mainly be Lady Utsu's story, there is little but dialogue. I often felt as if I was reading a bad play, because nothing was described except for what the characters said aloud. Just as I was beginning to grudgingly get accustomed to it, the style changed to suit a different character.
I had thought that the book could get no worse, and yet it did. After this point, I really cannot say what the book was about. A samurai wanders through the woods for months (or perhaps it is years, or perhaps only days - the author is very bad at giving the reader any indication of how much time has gone by). During all of these hundreds of pages, he does little except let a fox lick him.

The last portion of the book, yet again, grew even more ridiculous. Lady Utsu, now an old woman, finds Matsuhito, and they fall in love all over again. However, their supposed love story fell flat, and they must be the most annoying couple that I have ever had the unfortunate privilege of reading about.
Most of their relationship, especially toward the end of the story, went something like this:

Utsu: Our foxes will die! They will go into the woods and never come back!
Matsuhito: No they won't.
Utsu: The child will die!
Matsuhito: No it won't.
Utsu: We are cursed! I see an evil spirit!
Matsuhito: No you don't.
Utsu: You will die! You will leave me! You will stop loving me!
Matsuhito: No I won't.
Utsu: I will die! I will keep getting old and I will die!
Matsuhito: Well, erm, um, eh.....
Utsu: *weeping disconsolately*

And so it went.

Lady Utsu is constantly being described as a cold, cruel woman. I got the feeling that Schaeffer wanted to depict her as a sort of ice queen, regal and fascinating in her terrible beauty. And, indeed, this is exactly how the other characters of the book see her. But as the reader, I saw no such thing. First of all, I saw little cruelty from her, but rather a misunderstood woman who makes painful decisions that she thinks are, nevertheless, best. I had been anticipating a complex heroine-villain from the inside cover's description, so the Lady Utsu that I found was disappointing, as well as rather boring.
Also, she is a hard-as-nails, somber lady in the first part of the book, an essential aspect to the feeling of her character.
By the last portion of the book, when she comes back into the story, she has inexplicably become a weepy, pathetic woman who sees tragedy and evil spirits lurking behind every corner.

There was a story of Utsu's children that I thought would have been interesting. I was truthfully hoping that the story would switch to them, since I disliked Lady Utsu so much.
They are built up as if they will later come into the story, and yet, they never do.

The single enjoyable sentence I found in this book was - "Memories are a dark wood. Do not enter them."
However, I repeat, that was a single sentence. The rest of this book is dreadfully written, and I will not be reading any more of the author's work.

Not recommended.