Snowy Novellas

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Snowy Novellas

Stories that will stay with you long after the snow has gone.

That blizzard we got in January was a great start to making up for the first half of winter 2015-2016 being downright balmy with occasional wintry weather. I know it’s late in the game, but I’m not ready to give up on the idea of more snow.

While we’re all eagerly awaiting the next chance to meet up in Dupont Circle or Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park to celebrate another snow day with an epic snowball fight, I suggest channeling positive thoughts for more snow by curling up on your sofa and picking up some novellas where snow is almost another character or contributes heavily to the story’s atmosphere.

Please note: this list would not be mine if it didn’t consist of thought-provoking stories that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the story. Light on the happy endings. Heavy on the Human Condition. Sure, you can read A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. But it didn’t make this list. Looking for something a little less straightforward and cuddly, and more unashamedly ambiguous and introspective? You’ve come to the right place. Novellas are by definition shorter novels, so these books also offer a great opportunity to try something new. And don’t worry -- I won’t be spoiling any plots here.

The White Wolf, by Franklin Gregory

A noire-ish suspenseful mystery set in the 1940s in the Pennsylvania Dutch country involving a centuries-old family, mysterious disappearances, and a healthy sprinkling of deaths. Requisite family curse included. I don’t want to give too much away here, but I thoroughly enjoyed it for the contrasting rural and city atmospherics, the old family glamour, and dialogue that is firmly of its time. I’m frankly at a loss as to why it was never made into a movie. The really cool book cover is a reprint of the original edition.

Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

Set in the appropriately named fictional New England town of Starkfield where our narrator is stranded due to a snow storm, we are very slowly introduced to Ethan Frome, a reticent character that peaks the narrator’s interest, especially after he picks up on how everyone in the small community is a little too reluctant to talk. The book begins with the stranger’s arrival, going back in time as we learn more about three tortured souls: Ethan Frome, his wife Zeena (Zenobia), and Zeena’s cousin Mattie. Things indoors are nowhere near as serene and tranquil as the beautifully depicted wintry New England landscape. The book concludes with a sharp twist to the proverbial knife’s edge on which the relationship between the three characters resides.

The Ox-bow Incident, by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

Van Tilburg Clark’s most famous novel is a western set in the fictional town of Bridger’s Wells, Nevada in 1885. All of the action takes place in one long day, centering on a posse that is organized to go after a group of men who have allegedly killed a ranch hand and stolen cattle from the largest cattle owner in the area. Obligatory hardships while trying to cross a snowy mountainous pass during blizzard conditions included.  The story is narrated from the point of view of two cowboys who ride into town just in time to join the posse, convenient outsiders who let us in on all the ugliness members of search party possess that comes out during the course of their execution of justice. If you’ve never read a western or think they aren’t for you, check this one out.

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

Set during the 1890s Klondike gold rush in Canada’s Yukon territory, Jack London’s novella is a story of survival involving a dog, Buck, who is stolen from his happy home in the Santa Clara Valley of California and sold as a sled dog in Alaska. As a domesticated animal, Buck has to contend with and adapt to poor treatment from a series of trainers and owners, a colder environment with unpredictable conditions, and has to learn how to get along with and earn respect from his fellow sled dogs. The wild beauty and hardships of the Yukon is vividly brought to life as Buck learns who to trust and how to survive in this snowy adventure story.

The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James

Nothing says gothic ghost story novella like Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. If I owned a large old house with guest bedrooms, copies of this would be in each nightstand. This is the story of a governess who is employed to take care of the owner’s niece Flora and nephew Miles at a country estate in Essex county, eastern England. Miles has just come home after being expelled from his boarding school for reasons unknown. Flora's previous governess died, also for reasons unknown. Soon the governess begins seeing ghosts on the grounds of the estate... or is she? And she comes to believe the children can see them, too….or can they? Henry James wrote this one on a dare, which is why it’s unlike anything else he had written previously. Gothic stories include elements of romanticism, something Henry James definitely mastered. He was also a self-proclaimed fan of ghost stories of the kind that involved strange, eerie, and unusual spirits. The result is a true classic of the genre, a delicious read in which to immerse oneself, and testament to a bet won.

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s classic novella about young science student Victor Frankenstein and the grotesque sentient being he creates is another classic of gothic fiction, and like Ethan Frome, The Ox-bow Incident, and The Turn of the Screw, an outsider is also employed as a decide for us to learn both men’s stories, this time in the form of Captain Robert Walton. But this story is so much more than an excellently written cautionary tale to induce readers to contemplate the repercussions of the science of the time. It’s also a commentary on tolerance, acceptance, and being human. This novella also benefits from our cold atmospheric friend in the form a breathtaking trek across the frozen North Pole for part of the story.