Once again, as in Prayers for Sale, Sandra Dallas takes readers to a Colorado mining community in 1920. This time, she leads us up to, and through, a tragedy. Whiter Than Snow is the story of an avalanche that hit just as nine children were walking home from school.
But, Whiter Than Snow isn't really about an avalanche that happened on April 20, 1920. Instead, it's about people, and how they arrive at turning points in their lives, as so many of Dallas' novels are. Dallas tells the story of the parents of those nine children. Sisters Lucy and Dolly Patch haven't spoken to each other in years. The sisters who were so close were torn apart when Dolly betrayed Lucy's trust. Joe Cobb was a black man in a white community, a man who fled there with his daughter, after knowing the brutality of life as a Negro in Alabama at the turn of the century. Now, he worked side by side with white men in the mine, and sent his daughter to school with their children. Essie Snowball, a prostitute, also sent her daughter to school, but under another name, so no one would know that Sophie's mother was a hooker. There was Grace Foote, the wife of the mine superintendent, stuck in a marriage of her own making. Minder Evens was a veteran of the Civil War, still haunted by the death of his best friend. Now, he cares for his grandson, and tends the graves of other war veterans, in reparation for his past.
Dallas brings all of these people together on a day when the fates of their children are at stake. Some will live, and some will die, but its their parents' actions that brought them to Swandyke, Colorado. The lives of these six people will be forever linked because of that tragedy.
As always, Dallas brings together diverse people to show the humanity we all share. As in any community tragedy, people unite to save others, but there will always be people who stand out for their prejudice, while there are always those who rise to their best.
I've always been a fan of Dallas' books. Some reviews have criticized the large cast of characters, and lack of development. Whiter Than Snow rises above that. Dallas' story is the story of the parents, brought together by this tragedy, and forever changed because of it. Tragedy does that to people. Some people recognize what they almost lost, and change for the better. Others recognize their own mortality, and change. Sandra Dallas doesn't tell a story about nine children who have not yet lived. Whiter Than Snow is about the parents, who made mistakes in their lives, but now recognize they must move beyond petty grievances or past history. Once again, the author who uses quilting so much in her books, has pieced together a work that is greater than the individual character stories. This isn't about one person, or one person's history. It's the story of Swandyke, and how people become part of a community. Dallas' books always deal with human frailties, redemption, and the importance of community. Whiter Than Snow is another piece in Dallas' lifework, a quilt that shows ordinary life in its beauty and ugliness, with the history and humanity that stitches us all together.
Sandra Dallas' website is www.SandraDallas.com
Whiter Than Snow by Sandra Dallas. St. Martin's Press, ©2010. ISBN 9780312600150 (hardcover), 304p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I requested my copy of the ARC from the publisher, so I could read and review it.