Image of Blizzard: A Novel
Release Date: 
July 18, 2023
The Overlook Press
Reviewed by: 

“the plot of Blizzard is compulsive enough to carry it through to the end. The age-old question of what happens next compels the turning of the page.”

In Blizzard, Marie Vingtras has built a compelling milieu that naturally creates tension and intrigue: a boy is lost in a raging snow storm in rural Alaska, and a band of various characters are trying to find him.

Told through multiple first-person perspectives, the reader sees this scene through vastly different eyes. There’s Bess, the young woman who lost the boy in the first place and who others claim isn’t “the sharpest tool in the shed.” There’s Benedict, presented as the boy’s father. There’s Cole, a foul-mouthed, crusty neighbor, hungover from the “rotgut” booze he got from Clifford (a member of the cast who doesn’t get a voice, but plays a significant role). And finally, there’s Freeman, a recent transplant to the North for reasons unknown to his few neighbors.

The voices jump regularly, and sections are often quite short, which lends the novel a feeling of disorientation. This makes sense given the circumstances, but the narrative ping-ponging starts to feel jarring, and we’re left with a constant sense of withholding. There are clearly some dark secrets hidden away in this snowy landscape.

For Bess and Benedict, those secrets are worth waiting for—even if they’re too blatantly teased at times—but Cole is another matter. Flawed characters are critical to stories, and villains are necessary, but Cole’s lack of complexity is ultimately a hindrance. He’s loathsome from the beginning, and that doesn’t change. The same is true of Clifford.

Freeman—though a more compelling character than Cole or Clifford—is likewise problematic. As the only Black character in the book, Freeman’s presence in this rural Alaska community is already an anomaly, and his backstory touches numerous elements of the stereotypical “Black American experience.” It’s—of course—likely that he has faced racism and segregation in his life, but several other components play too heavily into outdated and inaccurate tropes: violence, drug use, drug dealing. Rather than feeling like a fully realized character, Freeman feels like a symbol.

In a similar vein, simply too many difficult “issues” crop up in the world of this rag-tag group of semi-recluses. Sexual abuse and predation, abandonment, the evils of war, untimely deaths. Life does, indeed, include all these horrors (and often all at once), but as the traumas accumulate, the characters take a back seat. Rather than driving the narrative, they simply seem to be along for the ride.

Still, the plot of Blizzard is compulsive enough to carry it through to the end. The age-old question of what happens next compels the turning of the page. Vingtras sweetens that natural curiosity with memorable and insightful moments: how anger can keep us going, how an over-reliance on logic can lead us astray, how formidable an opponent nature can be, how answers to mysteries are often right in front of our eyes. Loneliness, isolation, and rejection thread their way through each of the novel’s voices, as well—each one a worthy theme to pursue.

Most importantly, Vingtras explores the paralyzing weight of secrets. As Bess says at one point, “Sometimes secrets get so heavy, it feels like there’s no way to get rid of them without getting rid of yourself too.” Even if some of those secrets seem unnaturally kept (and unbelievably unnoticed), they still push us forward through the snow, anxious to see what we might uncover.