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Light on Snow

Light on Snow

3.9 114
by Anita Shreve, Alyson Silverman (Read by)

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A brilliant and beautiful contemporary novel about love and memory from the author of the bestselling novels All He Ever Wanted and The Pilot's Wife.

The events of a December afternoon, during which a father and his daughter find an abandoned infant in the snow, will forever alter the 11-year-old girl's understanding of the world and the adults who inhabit it: a


A brilliant and beautiful contemporary novel about love and memory from the author of the bestselling novels All He Ever Wanted and The Pilot's Wife.

The events of a December afternoon, during which a father and his daughter find an abandoned infant in the snow, will forever alter the 11-year-old girl's understanding of the world and the adults who inhabit it: a father who has taken great pains to remove himself from society in order to put an unthinkable tragedy behind him; a young woman who must live with the consequences of the terrible choices she has made; and a detective whose cleverness is exceeded only by his sense of justice.

Written from the point of view of 30-year-old Nicky as she recalls the vivid images of that fateful December, her tale is one of love and courage, of tragedy and redemption, and of the ways in which the human heart always seeks to heal itself.

Editorial Reviews

Walking in the snow near their New Hampshire home, a father and daughter come upon an abandoned infant, wrapped in a bloody towel. For the father, this chance discovery reopens a wound: Two years before, he had lost his wife and toddler daughter in a car crash. Now the chance finding of the baby places him on a winding path toward healing.
Chris Bohjalian
The images of Nicky's father alone with his grief or the moment when Nicky menstruates for the first time with no mother with whom to discuss it are authentic and poignant; the complex rush of emotions Nicky experiences around the infant's mom -- fear, fascination and (for a variety of reasons the novel makes clear) adoration -- is a well-drawn microcosm of adolescence. The overall result is a novel that probably won't be studied by Shreve scholars in fifty or a hundred years, but one that nevertheless offers moments that are diverting and pleasurable.
— The Washington Post
John Hartl
How should the father and daughter behave toward this disarmingly soft-spoken monster? Does she have a story to tell that would explain, even justify, her behavior? Shreve prolongs the suspense nicely, although she wraps everything up a bit too quickly and too glibly. Still, this small-scale story leaves you with a genuinely unnerving sense of larger forces at work -- only this time, bad things might lead to good.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
An after-school stroll leads to a life-altering event for widower Robert Dillon and his 12-year-old daughter, Nicky, in this delicate new novel by acclaimed author Shreve (All He Ever Wanted, etc.). In the woods surrounding their secluded home in Shepherd, N.H., Robert and Nicky make a startling discovery-a baby abandoned and left to die in the snow. The infant survives, but the incident leaves its mark. Still recovering from the painful loss of her mother and infant sister two years earlier, and readjusting to the shock of a sudden move from suburban Westchester to rural Shepherd, Nicky struggles to reconcile her innocent notions of adult integrity with the bleak reality of their discovery. The tenuous sense of normalcy Robert manages to sustain is broken with the appearance of Charlotte, the baby's young mother, on his doorstep. Retold 18 years later by an adult Nicky but written in the present tense, the story shifts brilliantly between childlike visions of a simple world and the growing realization of its cruel ambiguities. Aside from a few saccharine moments and a rather pat ending, Shreve does a skilled job of portraying grief, conflict and anger while leaving room for hope, redemption and renewal. Her characters are sympathetic without being pitiable, and her prose remains deceptively simple and eloquent throughout. Agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh. (Oct. 12) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
We look for novels published for adults that have immediate appeal for YAs, and Shreve's Light on Snow is just such a book. First of all, it is told in the voice of a 12-year-old girl, Nicky, who lives alone with her father in an isolated setting in New Hampshire. We soon learn they are in their second year of grieving the deaths of the mother and baby sister of the family; Nicky and her father are trying to cope with their overwhelming emotions of loss and grief, and in the differences they are in conflict. Nicky yearns for reconnection, for family; her father is hesitant to make any connections at all. Into this emotional situation, in the snowy winter, comes an almost Christmas-like event: Nicky and her father discover a newborn baby abandoned in the woods behind their home; they rescue the child, taking her to a nearby hospital, are written about in the local paper, and thereby set off a chain of events that make up the plot of this riveting story. The desperate teenage mother of the abandoned baby, wanted by the law, comes to their door, and in Nicky and her father's response to her needs lies the healing for their own loss. This story offers many opportunities for discussions with teenagers about grieving, about responsibility, about connections. Shreve writes with vivid images, in lyrical, yet sparse prose. The characters are heartbreakingly appealing. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2004, Little, Brown, Back Bay, 305p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Claire Rosser
Library Journal
Thirty-year-old Nicky Dillon remembers back to the December of the year she was 11, when she and her father, Robert, took a walk in the woods-and found an abandoned newborn girl. The baby was turned over to the authorities and pronounced all right, but only because the Dillons found her in time. Two years before, Mrs. Dillon and their two-year-old were killed in a car wreck near the family's Westchester County home. In his grief, Robert abandoned his architectural practice and moved with Nicky to an isolated cabin outside the small town of Shepherd, NH, cutting himself off from his previous associates and removing Nicky from her familiar surroundings. The story has some unexpected twists and an ending that is neither joy-filled nor tragic. Narrator Alyson Silverman has a definite Midwestern accent and mispronounces several words that a New Englander would know. For large popular collections where demand warrants.-Nann Blaine Hilyard, Zion-Benton P.L., IL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-After her family has been shattered by the deaths of her mother and baby sister in a car accident, Nicky Dillon, 12, and her father, Robert, move to a small New Hampshire town. One evening, they discover a newborn abandoned in the snow. When the infant's mother, a college student, comes to the Dillon home, the three become snowbound during a blizzard. As she learns the details of the birth, Nicky befriends and tries to hide the young woman from the detective on the case. Shreve explores unwed motherhood and puberty as well as grief and loneliness. Each character is faced with hard choices; each action has consequences. The characters are real, the events believable, and the outcomes realistic. The book is filled with suspense and tension. Shreve's writing is strong, and the treatment of these sensitive issues is handled realistically.-Sheila Janega, Fairfax County Public Library, Great Falls, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From bestselling Shreve (All He Ever Wanted, 2003, etc.), a curiously listless tale of a grieving dad and daughter who rescue a newborn abandoned in the snow. Not long before Christmas 1983, 12-year-old Nicky Dillon and her father Robert, walking in the woods near their house in New Hampshire, stumble across a baby girl wrapped in a bloody towel, the remnants of her umbilical cord still attached. They race her to the hospital, she survives, and the police launch a hunt for the parents. The Dillons' discovery opens the still-fresh wound inflicted on a mid-December day two years earlier when Nicky's mother and one-year-old sister Clara were killed in a car crash. Robert fled Westchester with his daughter, hoping to escape their memories in rural isolation. When the infant's 19-year-old mother turns up, he doesn't want to have anything to do with her, but he finds he can't turn her in either when a convenient fainting spell and blizzard trap Charlotte in their house. Looking back on these events at age 30-for no evident reason except to give us some reassuring flash-forwards at the close-Nicky mingles the gradual unfolding of Charlotte's story (the rotten father exposed the baby and lied to her about it) with her memories of Mom and Clara and her worries about Dad. A sympathetic local detective's gradual closing in on Charlotte provides the not-very-suspenseful plot movement. The whole tale seems contrived, right down to Nicky's climactic, too-pat confrontation with her father. "Are you just trying to stay sad? To hold on to Mom and Clara?" do not seem like the insights of a 12-year-old. Everything is too easy here, including the fact that we never meet the boy who actually left the newbornto die, so readers can feel comfortably sorry for everyone without having to grapple with any messy moral issues. One of this talented author's lesser efforts, though fans will probably be satisfied by the readable prose and intelligent, albeit shallow, character observation. Agent: Virginia Barber/William Morris

Product Details

Hachette Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Unabridged, 7 CDs, 6 hrs 30 mins
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 5.62(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Light On Snow

By Anita Shreve

Little, Brown

Copyright © 2004 Anita Shreve
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-78148-7

Chapter One

Beyond the window of my father's shop, midwinter light skims the snow. My father stands, straightening his back.

"How was school?" he asks. "Good," I say.

He puts his sander down and reaches for his jacket on a hook. I run my hand along the surface of the table. The wood is floury with dust, but satin underneath.

"You ready?" he asks. "I'm ready," I say.

My father and I leave his workshop in the barn and walk out into the cold. The air, dry and still, hurts my nose as I breathe. We lace up our snowshoes and bang them hard against the crust. A rust color is on the bark, and the sun is making purple shadows behind the trees. From time to time the light sends up a sheen of pocked glass.

We move at a good clip, dodging pine boughs, occasionally catching a shower on the back of the neck. My father says, "I feel like a dog let out to exercise at the end of the day."

The stillness of the forest is always a surprise, as if an audience had quieted for a performance. Beneath the hush I can hear the rustle of dead leaves, the snap of a twig, a brook running under a skin of ice. Beyond the woods there's the hollow road-whine of a truck on Route 89, the drone of a plane headed into Lebanon. We follow a path that is familiar, that will end at a stone wall near the summit. The wall, square on three sides, once bordered a farmer's property. The house and barn are gone, and only the foundations remain. When we reach the wall, my father will sometimes sit on it and have a cigarette.

I am twelve on this mid-December afternoon (though I am thirty now), and I don't know yet that puberty is just around the corner, or that the relentless narcissism of a teenage girl will make walking in the woods with my father just about the last thing I'll want to do on any given day after school. Taking a hike together is a habit my father and I have grown into. My father spends too many hours bent to his work, and I know he needs to get outside.

After the table is finished, my father will put it in the front room with the other furniture he has made. Fourteen pieces in two years isn't much of an output, but he's had to teach himself from books. What he can't learn from manuals, he asks a man called Sweetser down at the hardware store. My father's furniture is simple and rudimentary, and that is fine with him. It has a decent line and a passable finish, though none of that matters. What matters is that the work keeps him busy and is unlike anything he has ever done before.

A branch snaps and scratches my cheek. The sun sets. We have maybe twenty minutes left of decent light. The route back to the house is easy all the way down and can be done in less than ten. We still have time to reach the wall.

I hear the first cry then, and I think it is a cat. I stop under a canopy of pine and listen, and there it is again. A rhythmic cry, a wail.

"Dad," I say. I take a step toward the sound, but as abruptly as it began, it ends. Behind me snow falls with a muted thump onto the crust.

"A cat," my father says.

We begin the steep climb up the hill. My feet feel heavy at the ends of my legs. When we reach the summit, my father will judge the light, and if there's time he'll sit on the stone wall and see if he can make out our house - a smidgen of yellow through the trees. "There," he will say to me, pointing down the hill, "can you see it now?" My father has lost the weight of a once sedentary man.

His jeans are threadbare in the thighs and tinged with the rusty fur of sawdust. At best he shaves only every other day. His parka is beige, stained with spots of oil and grease and pine pitch. He cuts his hair himself, and his blue eyes are always a surprise.

I follow his tracks and pride myself that I no longer have any trouble keeping up with him. Over his shoulder he tosses me a Werther's candy, and I catch it on the fly. I pull off my mittens, tuck them under my arm, and begin to unwrap the cellophane. As I do I hear the distant thunk of a car door shutting.

We listen to the sound of an engine revving. It seems to come from the direction of a motel on the northeast side of the hill. The entrance to the motel is further out of town than the road that leads to our house, and we seldom have a reason to drive by it. Still, I know it is there, and I sometimes see it through the trees on our walks - a low, red-shingled building that does a decent business in the ski season.

I hear a third cry then - heartbreaking, beseeching, winding down to shuddering.

"Hey!" my father calls.

In his snowshoes he begins to run as best he can in the direction of the cry. Every dozen steps he stops, letting the sound guide him. I follow, and the sky darkens as we go. He takes a flashlight from his pocket and switches it on. "Dad," I say, panic rising in my chest.

The beam of light jiggles on the snow as he runs. My father begins to sweep the flashlight in an arc, back and forth, side to side. The moon lifts off the horizon, a companion in our search.

"Anybody there?" he calls out.

We move laterally around the base of the slope. The flashlight flickers off and my father shakes it to reconnect the batteries. It slips out of his glove and falls into a soft pocket of snow beside a tree, making an eerie cone of light beneath the crust. He bends to pick it up, and as he raises himself, the light catches on a patch of blue plaid through the trees.

"Hello!" he calls. The woods are silent, mocking him, as if this were a game.

My father waves the flashlight back and forth. I'm wondering if we shouldn't turn around and head back to the house. It's dangerous in the woods at night; it's too easy to get lost. My father makes another pass with the flashlight, and then another, and it seems he has to make twenty passes before he catches again the patch of blue plaid. There's a sleeping bag in the snow, a corner of flannel turned over at its opening.

"Stay here," my father says.

I watch my father run forward in his showshoes, the way one sometimes does in dreams - unable to make the legs move fast enough. He crouches for better leverage and keeps a steady bead on the bag. When he reaches the plaid flannel, he tears it open. I hear him make a sound unlike any I have ever heard before. He falls to his knees in the snow.

"Dad!" I shout, already running toward him.

My arms are flailing, and it feels as though someone is pushing against my chest. My hat falls off, but I keep on clumping through the snow. I am breathing hard when I reach him, and he doesn't tell me to go away. I look down at the sleeping bag.

A small face gazes up at me, the eyes wide despite their many folds. The spiky black hair is gelled with birth matter. The baby is wrapped in a bloody towel, and its lips are blue.

My father bends his cheek to the tiny mouth. I know enough not to make a sound.

With one swift movement he gathers up the icy sleeping bag, presses it close to him, and stands. But the material is cheap and slippery, and he can't get a decent grip. I hold my arms out to catch the baby.

He kneels again in the snow. He sets his bundle down, unzips his jacket, and tears open his flannel shirt, the buttons popping as he goes. He unwraps the infant from the bloody towel. Six inches of something I will later learn is cord hang from the baby's navel. My father puts the child close to his skin, holding the head upright in the palm of one hand. Without even knowing that I've looked, I understand the infant is a girl.

My father staggers to his feet. He wraps his flannel shirt and parka around the child, folding the jacket tight with his arms. He shifts his bundle to make a closed package. "Nicky," my father says.

I look up at him.

"Hold on to my jacket if you need to," he says, "but don't let yourself get more than a foot or two behind me." I grab the edge of his parka.

"Keep your head down and watch my feet."

We move by the smell of smoke. Sometimes we have the scent, and sometimes we don't. I can see the silhouettes of trees, but not their branches.

"Hang in there," my father says, but I don't know if it is to me or to the infant against his chest that he is speaking.

We half slide, half run down the long hill, my thighs burning with the strain. My father lost the flashlight when he left the sleeping bag in the snow, and there isn't time to go back for it. We move through the trees, and the boughs scratch my face. My hair and neck are soaked from melted snow that freezes again on my forehead. From time to time I feel a rising fear: We are lost, and we won't get the baby out in time. She will die in my father's arms. No, no, I tell myself, we won't let that happen. If we miss the house, we'll eventually hit the highway. We have to. I see the light from a lamp in my father's workshop.

"Dad, look," I say.

The last hundred yards seems the longest distance I have ever run in my life. I open the door and brace it for my father. We wear our snowshoes into the barn, the bamboo and gut slapping as we make our way to the wood-stove. My father sits in a chair. He opens his jacket and looks down at the tiny face. The baby's eyes are closed, the lips still bluish. He puts the back of his hand to the mouth, and from the way he closes his eyes I can tell that she's breathing.

I unlace my snowshoes and then undo my father's. "An ambulance won't make it up the hill," my father says. Holding the child against his skin, he stands. "Come with me."

We move out the barn door, along the passageway to the house, and into the back hallway. My father takes the stairs two at a time and turns into his bedroom. Clothes litter the floor, and a fan of magazines is on the bed. I hardly ever go into my father's bedroom. He snatches up a sweater but tosses it away because of the roughness of the yarn. He gathers up a flannel shirt and realizes that it hasn't yet been washed. In the corner is a blue plastic laundry basket that my father and I take to the Laundromat every week or so. Betweentimes he uses it as a kind of bureau drawer.

"Hand me that," he says, pointing.

With one arm, he sweeps the magazines from the bed. I set the laundry basket on the mattress. He takes the baby out, wraps her in two clean flannel shirts, front to back, the small face above the folds. He makes a nest of sheets in the basket, and then he lays the infant gently in. "Okay then," he says to steady himself. "Okay now."

I climb into the truck. My father sets the basket on my lap.

"You all right?" he asks.

I nod, knowing that no other answer is at all possible. My father gets into the truck and puts the key into the ignition. I know he's praying that the engine will start. It catches the first try only half the time in winter. The engine coughs, and he coaxes it to a whine. I'm afraid to look at the infant in the plastic basket, afraid I won't see the tiny puffs of breath in the frigid air, mimicking my own.

My father drives as fast as he dares. I grit my teeth in the ruts. The frozen lane is ridged up from the early snows and thaws of the fall. In the spring, before the town comes by to grade it, the road will be nearly impassable. Last spring, during a two-week melt, I had to stay at my friend Jo's house so that I could go to school. My father, who had taken great pains to be alone, finally walked into town one day, both to see his daughter and to break his cabin fever.

Marion, who tends the register at Remy's, tried to bring him home in her Isuzu, but she couldn't make it past the first bend. My father had to walk the rest of the distance, and his calf muscles ached for days.

The baby snorts and startles me. She gives a wail, and even in the weak light from the dashboard, I can see the angry red of her skin. My father puts his hand out to touch her. "Atta girl," he whispers in the dark.

He keeps his hand lightly on the soft mound of flannel shirts. I wonder if the motion of soothing Clara is coming back to him now and hurting his chest. The road down the hill seems longer than I remembered it. I hope the baby will cry all the way to Mercy.

My father guns the engine when he hits the pavement, and the truck fishtails from ice in the treads. He pushes the speedometer as high as he can without losing control.

We pass the Mobil station and the bank and the one-room elementary school from which I graduated just the year before. I wonder if my father will stop at Remy's and hand the baby over to Marion, who could call for an ambulance.

But my father bypasses the store, because stopping will only delay what he's already doing - delivering the infant to someone who will know what to do with her. We drive past the small village green that is used as a skating rink in winter. In the middle is a flagpole with a spotlight on it.

Who left the baby in the sleeping bag?

My father turns at the sign for Mercy. The driveway to the hospital is lined with yellow lights, and I can see the baby, scrunching her face, ugly now. But I remember the eyes looking up at me in the woods - dark eyes, still and watchful. My father pulls up to Emergency and leans on the horn.

The door on my side swings open, and a security guard in uniform pushes his face into the truck.

"What's the horn for?" he asks.


Excerpted from Light On Snow by Anita Shreve Copyright © 2004 by Anita Shreve. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Noah St. John is Founder and CEO of The Success Clinic of America. People and organizations in over 30 countries are using their proven methods to get better results with less effort. Noah's bestseller Permission to Succeed® is now in its 10th printing.

Brief Biography

New Hampshire; Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
B.A., Tufts University

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Light on Snow 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 114 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Some reviewers here must have missed all the lovely images and themes in this wonderful book (I listened to the audio cassette). The story starts off with a bang, and is told in the viewpoint of Nicky, the daughter. It develops realistically, as Nicky and her Dad deal with the situation. Light on Snow can mean so many things - think about it and read it again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recently found Anita Shreve and her books and I have read a few. This one does not disappoint. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although I usually enjoy this author, Light on Snow left me feeling manipulated. Fascinating premise - How could any mother DO that ?! - but this question is made irrelevant as Charlotte is innocent of fault except for naivete. Total copout on Shreve's part.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A smart, thoughtful and deeply feeling work. I loved reading this!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Honest, clean, visual, believable. Good solid writing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anita Shreve has done it again! This suspense filled book kept me reading for hours a day. The whole plot was full of excitement. Anite Shreve did a wonderful job of making the book come to life and making me feel as if I were really there.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book ended up being a bit of a let down. It was ok but for the most part I kept reading and reading hoping something big would happen, but it seemed as if it should have been a short story instead of a full novel. It was a long account of what a boring life the father and daughter live offering some emotion but in the end there was no real point to the long story.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a beautifully written and unique book about hope and humanity. Really loved the gorgeous prose and mood of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Story of love, and what it can ultimately cost. One of her best books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I feel like I want to know what happens after the end of the story but it is still a good book.
Bookworm53TX More than 1 year ago
At first you're not sure where the book is going but it's a good character piece.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was an easy read but not nearly as good as The Pilot's Wife. Very anticlimactic.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a poor book written by a good writer. I have read all of this author's books. This one is mundane and boring. The plot is weak and the ending weaker yet. Catherine
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