Before winter ends, be sure to experience the chilling thrills of Ronald Malfi’s Snow. This winter-set tale is an engrossing read with a frightening storyline, really strong character development, and a cold, disturbing atmosphere. Snow will keep you hovering by the glow of your bedside lamp into the wee hours of the night in the grip of anticipation and terror until the very last page. Malfi turns a majestic winter wonderland into a distorted, blood-spattered nightmare – “a Normal Rockwell painting gone horribly awry.” Malfi’s spine-chilling set-up will fill the reader with a terrified reluctance, the type of feeling you get just before entering a haunted house or the moment right before a movie’s great jump-scare scene. You know something horrific is going to happen and sweat its execution with anticipatory glee.
Snow is a horror / sci-fi / thriller that examines the human condition under extreme circumstances. The story follows Todd Curry, a man determined to make it home in time for Christmas to reunite with his estranged son. All flights are cancelled due to brutal snowstorms this fated Christmas Eve leaving Todd stranded at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. He decided to forgo the waiting game, opting instead to navigate the dangerous roads by car. Todd is joined by three fellow travelers; the young firecracker Kate, and elderly couple Frank and Nan. Things take a turn for the worst when Todd crashes their rented Jeep into a snow drift after swerving to miss a mysterious man wandering on the side of the road. The foursome is forced to head out on foot into the nearby isolated town of Woodson to call for help, but instead of finding access to roadside assistance the group enters a hellish scene of carnage and violence.
Once in Woodson the travelers team up with a visibly shaken and armed local, Shawna, whose experience and ability to navigate this precarious terrain give them a better chance at survival. It’s not immediately evident what is hunting the townspeople of Woodson. The travelers quickly learn that, whether a supernatural force of nature or an extraterrestrial invasion, the hunter seems almost omnipresent and can even possess the bodies of the living. The Woodson phenomenon is best summed up by one local who when asked “My God, what is it?” simply replied “That, my dear lady … is a question for the ages.” Malfi cleverly reveals just enough through Shawna’s dialogue and brief flashbacks to hold the reader’s attention hostage, but exhibits the right amount of restraint to avoid spoiling the reveal and he continues this pacing throughout the novel. Shawna’s backstory exposes her strengths as a survivor and make her a sympathetic character most readers will cheer for.
Each member in this core group of five falls into a natural role; Shawna, as the local native, is the navigator of the group; Todd’s quick decision making and fearless attitude make him a de facto leader; the tough and independent Kate acts as Todd’s right-hand-woman ready to take on any challenge; and as the eldest members of the group, Frank and Nan fill in as the nurturing parents. While these classifications may seem cliché, the function of each member develops organically and their reaction, physically and emotionally, to their situation is always believable. Malfi is keenly aware of the group dynamic. Their interactions and internal struggles play out very realistically. In one instance, when the self-reliant Kate refuses to “stay with the girls” as Todd suggests, he replies, “We’re not gonna squabble about women’s lib right now.” The characters must figure out how to survive their predicament together or decide to go it alone while also trying to make sense of what is happening. In that regard, Snow is similar to The Mist in its examination of the human condition and group interaction in the face of unexplainable and life-threatening phenomena. Malfi has a subtle technique to fleshing out the characters to make them multi-faceted, rather than trite and stereotypical. As the story evolves, so do their roles as they try to manage the volatile situation.
Malfi has crafted an unsettling atmosphere with his distorted winter wonderland. He shifts from gore-soaked scenes to depicting poetic wintry landscapes in a phantasmagoric assemblage of cold horror. In one moment the reader is subjected to the “underlying decay that hummed like a cloud of flies,” the next “like sparkling confetti, a light snow fell…” There is no shortage of gruesome scenes, but in between the grotesqueries Malfi illustrates the snow-covered scenery with dreamlike prose.
Snow’s ending doesn’t wrap up perfectly and is arguably open to interpretation. But, whatever conclusion you come to in the end, it’ll be a thrill getting there. I highly recommend bumping this title to the top of your to-read list since it will be all the more unsettling to trudge through a wintery landscape after long sessions reading Snow. And for those who live in a warmer climate, please allow Malfi to corrupt your sunny disposition.
Pick up your copy of Snow from Barnes & Noble or Amazon in digital or mass market paperback format. Visit Ronald Malfi’s website to learn more about his work and find info on current and upcoming projects.