Whiter Than Snow – Book Review

But perhaps it was nothing more than the spring melt. That storm a few days before had dumped five feet of snowfall on top of a dry, heavy base of winter-worn snow. The wind had driven the snow off ridges, leaving them barren, and piled it into large cornices high up. But now the day was cloudless, the sun shining down as harsh as if it had been midsummer. It was so bright that it hurt your eyes to see the glare on the white, and some of the miners rubbed charcoal under their eyes to cut the sharpness.

But who cared what the cause was? Something started the slide that roared down Jubilee Mountain in Swandyke, Colorado, and that was all that mattered. – from Whiter Than Snow, page 4 –

On a perfect April day in 1920, a cornice of snow breaks free and becomes a fatal avalanche which kills four children walking home from school in a tiny Colorado mining community. Sandra Dallas opens her latest novel with this event, and then backtracks to explore the lives of the families involved in the tragedy. What follows is a series of  linked short stories of each of the main characters. Dallas brings the stories full circle when, at the end of the book, she returns to the mining town in the aftermath of the avalanche and brings closure to her characters’ personal journeys. In an interview about the book, Dallas says:

Each of the chapters involves subjects I wanted to explore.

These include a difficult relationship between sisters which is complicated by jealousy and misunderstanding; the post-Civil war treatment of African Americans; women’s rights and class differences – including a woman who finds her future at risk when her father loses his money, and an immigrant woman who turns to prostitution to support her young daughter; and finally post-traumatic stress, in this case surrounding a man who served in the Union army and feels guilty for the death of one of his friends. Each of the multi-layered stories could almost stand on their own – which gave an unusual depth to the completed novel.

Dallas explores the aftermath of tragedy, specifically the randomness of loss and the importance of community in navigating that loss. She captures the closeness of a mining community which often has to face tragedy and finds themselves isolated by the geography of the mountains and long winters.

It was the way things were done there. The grief of one was the grief of all. – from Whiter Than Snow, page 254 –

Sandra Dallas is considered an historical fiction writer – and Whiter Than Snow is indeed a slice of history inserted into fiction; but, I think Dallas writes beyond her genre in this novel by looking at the psychological make-up of her characters within the context of history. Readers might be interested to know that Swandyke is an actual town – although it is now a ghost town – but Dallas imagines the avalanche and its impact on the people.

I found Whiter Than Snow to be a quick, provocative read which will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction and character driven stories.


*FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

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    • Kay on July 3, 2010 at 08:13

    I’m glad that this author is getting some good reviews and notice of WHITER THAN SNOW. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve read many of her other books. I’ve always thought that Sandra Dallas was an excellent writer and that she deserved more acclaim for her works. Glad this one worked for you!

  1. Really enjoyed your review of this wished-for book.

    • Molly on July 3, 2010 at 09:25

    Wonderful review, Wendy!

    I am sad to say that I have not read any of Sandra Dallas’s work, but I have read terrific reviews of several. I think I need to declare a Sandra Dallas read-athon and finally experience this author for myself.

    • EL Fay on July 3, 2010 at 10:03

    This is how I think historical fiction should be – not just a story that simply takes place in the past or centers on a major event, but also incorporating its culture, psychology, and everyday social realities.

    • Nicola on July 3, 2010 at 12:05

    I only skimmed your review as I have this coming up to read. It’ll be my first by the author who I’ve always wanted to read. Glad to see you recommend it!

  2. This sounds so thought provoking.

  3. Sounds like alot of issues packed into one book, glad you enjoyed it. I also looked at the link, Im kind of fasinated my the idea of ghost towns.

  4. I just finished this one. I love Sandra Dallas, she is a fabulous writer and story teller. I enjoyed all the stories but I missed getting to know the characters better. And I do think this book lacked the twist that she nornally throws in at the end. I don’t think it is her best book, but it’s still a good read.

  5. I do love Sandra Dallas’s work, especially Tallgrass and New Mercies. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

    • Wendy on July 4, 2010 at 17:16

    Kay: I had not even heard of Dallas until I got offered her book – I will definitely be interested in reading more from this author.

    L Clare: Thank you – I hope you don’t have to wish for it for too long!

    Molly: Thanks! I think you would enjoy this book – and I want to read more of her books as I’ve heard that some of her earlier work is even better.

    El Fay: I agree – I like when a book goes further than just the “history” and incorporates more of the every day life of the characters.

    Nicola: I’ll look forward to your review!

    Kathy: It was an interesting way to write the book (having a retrospective on each of the characters and then coming back to the original storyline) and I enjoyed that…

    Jessica: I’ve been to a few ghost towns and they fascinate me as well. Glad you liked the link 🙂

    Melanie: This was my first Dallas novel – good to know about her previous work…I need to read some of her earlier books, I think.

    Buy Books: I have seen great reviews on Tallgrass – thanks for the recommendation 🙂

  6. Oh, this sounds like such a good book! I love that it’s historical fiction that’s so psychologically complex. I really liked your review and think that this is one that I am going to add to my wish list! Thanks!

    • Wendy on July 7, 2010 at 04:40

    Zibilee: You’re welcome 🙂 Hope you’ll enjoy the book as I did when you get a chance to read it…I loved the complexity of this one.

    • Serena on July 7, 2010 at 06:52

    I don’t have this one, but ever since reading Tall Grass last year, I’ve wanted to pick up more of Dallas’ books. Thanks for the great review.

    • Amanda on July 8, 2010 at 13:13

    I’ve been dying to read this book. I was born in a tiny mountain town in Colorado so the setting appeals to me. I had no clue that it had a part about sisters. I love sharing books with my older sister and I need to get this one so I can send it on to her. Thanks for the review!

    • Wendy on July 11, 2010 at 07:25

    Serena: I just bought Tall Grass the other day – I am really looking forward to reading more from this author. Glad I was able to steer you to this one 🙂

    Amanda: Oh, I think given your background, you will really like to read this book.

  7. Thanks for this review. Dallas’ newest, True Sisters, deals with Mormon history and the Martin handcart company. I was about to buy it. Glad to know you and your readers like Dallas’ writing!

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