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Whiter Than Snow
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Whiter Than Snow

3.8 55
by Sandra Dallas

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From the "New York Times"-bestselling author of "Prayers for Sale" comes the moving and powerful story of a small town after a devastating avalanche, and the life-changing effects it has on the people who live there.


From the "New York Times"-bestselling author of "Prayers for Sale" comes the moving and powerful story of a small town after a devastating avalanche, and the life-changing effects it has on the people who live there.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[Dallas'] sense of time and place is pitch perfect and her affection for her characters infectious.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Dallas' ... latest truly leaves a mark on readers' souls. Using her hallmark clean, clear prose, Dallas portrays the gamut of emotions her characters experience and delivers a quietly eloquent and powerful story about how a town reacts to a devastating tragedy. This is a book that resonates with those who want to be touched.” —RTBook Reviews

“Like Dallas' "Prayers for Sale," "Whiter Than Snow" is a fast and engrossing novel that will capture readers' hearts from the first few pages.” —Deseret News

“In the capable hands of Sandra Dallas, readers are treated to a race-against-the-clock adventure tale as well as an intricate history of the early 20th century in the still slightly untamed west. Fans of Dallas's earlier novels, like PRAYERS FOR SALE and TALLGRASS, will not be disappointed with this exhilarating tale of rescue and redemption.” —Bookreporter.com

“I love how Dallas uses smaller stories to get to the meat of the story, and how she takes time developing the characters so readers are emotionally connected to them by the final chapter. As long as Dallas continues to write fabulous novels in her unique way, I will look forward to reading and writing about them.” —Craig Daily Press

“This is a heartwarming story about forgiveness and the kindness of strangers.” —BookLoons.com

“If you've ever read a Sandra Dallas novel, then you already know that she is just a fantastic storyteller. She has the unique ability to capture the essence of a place and time period, but she also creates wonderful as well as memorable characters.... I thought this book was a wonderful story with so many powerful messages. I highly recommend it!” —Booking Mama

Publishers Weekly
In this stilted, disjointed smalltown disaster drama, a 1920 Colorado avalanche traps nine children in a snow drift, turning their close-knit community upside-down in the process. As the children's families learn of their predicament, the complicated backstories that bind the members of sleepy Swandyke come to light; in the present, the developing tragedy, including multiple deaths, transforms the community through sorrow, forgiveness, and redemption. Unfortunately, novelist Dallas (Prayers for Sale) isn't up to the challenge of multiple plot threads, a large cast of characters, or the heavily loaded children-in-distress material; exaggerated caricature, stiff dialogue, and poorly integrated character history make for awkward, disappointing melodrama. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
Dallas (Prayers for Sale, 2009, etc.) centers her eighth novel around an avalanche that strikes the mining town of Swandyke, Colo., in the 1920s, trapping nine young children under the snow. By the end of the first chapter readers know the names of the children and that only four will survive, but Dallas's interest lies with their parents. There are sisters Lucy and Dolly. Dolly stole Lucy's fiance years ago, and Lucy, though married to a man who makes her happy, has never forgiven Dolly. Then there is Grace, the wife of the mine superintendent. After her father lost the family fortune, Grace seduced her husband into marriage out of the mistaken fear she was pregnant with another man's child. Unable to fit in with the local women, she's become a lonely neurotic. The only black man in Swandyke and a single father to his daughter, Joe tries to keep a low profile since running away from Alabama after he hit the white doctor who caused his wife's death. Septuagenarian Minder Evans is raising his orphaned grandson. A Civil War vet, Minder's guilt over letting his best friend die has left him a bitter loner. Finally there is Essie, the prostitute whose secrets include her Jewish background and her daughter, being raised by another woman until Essie can pull together enough money to leave the whorehouse. The avalanche story does not pick up again until the seventh chapter, when Grace witnesses the snow slide and alerts the town. As the digging out begins, and even after the surviving children are identified, the novel remains focused on how the tragedy redeems the adults' lives. The sisters reunite. Grace finds her place in the community and becomes a novelist. Minder reaches out both to Essie,who leaves prostitution to care for him, and Joe, whose suicide he prevents. Dallas lays on the sentimentality (and Christian overtones), but her sense of time and place is pitch perfect and her affection for her characters infectious. First printing of 150,000

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.84(d)

Read an Excerpt


No one knew what triggered the Swandyke avalanche that began at exactly 4:10 p.m. on April 20, 1920. It might have been the dynamite charge that was set off at the end of shift on the upper level of the Fourth of July Mine. The miners claimed the blast was too far inside the mountain to be felt on the surface, and besides, they had set off dynamite hundreds, maybe thousands, of times before, and nothing bad had happened. Except for that one time when a charge failed to go off and Howard Dolan hit it with his pick when he was mucking out the stope and blew himself and his partner to kingdom come.

Still, who knew how the old mountain took retribution for having its insides clawed out.

Certainly there was nothing to suggest that the day was different from any other. It started chill and clear. The men, their coat collars turned up against the dawn cold, left for their shifts at the Fourth of July or on the dredge up the Swan River, dinner pails clutched in their mittened hands. A little later, the children went off to school, the older brothers and sisters pulling little ones on sleds. Groups of boys threw snowballs at one another. One grabbed onto the back of a wagon and slid along over the icy road behind it. The Connor girl slipped on the ice and fell over a stone embankment, hitting her head. It hurt so much that she turned around and went home crying. The others called her a crybaby, but after what happened later that day, her parents said the blessed God had taken her hand.

After the children were gone, the women washed the breakfast dishes and started the beans for dinner. Then because the sun came out bright enough to burn your skin in the thin air, came out after one of the worst blizzards they had ever encountered, they got out the washtubs and scrubbed the overalls and shirts, the boys’ knickers and the girls’ dresses. When the wash was rinsed and wrung, they climbed onto the platforms that held the clotheslines far above the snow and hung up the clothes, where they would dry stiff as boards in the wind. Then because it was such a fine day, as fine a day as ever was, they called to one another to come and visit. There was a bit of coffee to reheat, and won’t you have a cup? Cookies, left over from the lunch pails, were set on plates on the oilcloth of the kitchen tables, and the women sat, feeling lazy and gossipy.

“You know, the Richards girl had her baby last week,” announced a woman in one of the kitchens, taking down the good china cups for coffee.

“Was her husband the father?” asked her neighbor.

“I didn’t have the nerve to ask.”

In another house, a woman confided, “The doctor says Albert has the cancer, but he won’t have his lungs cut on.”

“Then he’ll die,” her friend replied, muttering to herself, “at last.”

It was that kind of a day, one for confidences or lazy talk. The women blessed the bright sun after so many winter days of gloom. Nobody thought about an avalanche. What could cause trouble on a day the Lord had given them?

Maybe the cause was an animal—a deer or an elk or even a mountain sheep—making its way along the ridge of Jubilee Mountain. The weight of the beast would have been enough to loosen the snow. That happened often enough. Nobody saw an animal, but then, who was looking?

Or worthless Dave Buck might have set off the avalanche. He’d put on snowshoes and taken his gun and gone high up to hunt for a deer—a fawn, really, for Dave was too lazy to cut up the bigger carcass and haul it home. The company forbade hunting around the mine, but Dave didn’t care. He snowshoed up near timberline, where he’d seen the footprints of deer. He didn’t find any, and he stopped to drink from a pint he’d put into his pocket. One drink, and another, and he sat down beside a stunted pine and picked off the cones and slid them down the white slope. Then he tossed the bottle into that cornice of snow that dipped out over a ridge.

But perhaps it was nothing more than the spring melt. That storm a few days before had dumped five feet of snowfall on top of a dry, heavy base of winter-worn snow. The wind had driven the snow off ridges, leaving them barren, and piled it into large cornices high up. But now the day was cloudless, the sun shining down as harsh as if it had been midsummer. It was so bright that it hurt your eyes to see the glare on the white, and some of the miners rubbed charcoal under their eyes to cut the sharpness.

But who cared what the cause was? Something started the slide that roared down Jubilee Mountain in Swandyke, Colorado, and that was all that mattered.

There was a sharp crack like the sound of distant thunder, and then the cornice of snow where Dave Buck had thrown his bottle, a crusted strip two hundred feet long that flared out over the mountain ridge, fractured and fell. It landed on layers of snow that covered the mountain slope to a depth of more than six feet—a heavy, wet, melting mass of new snow on top, falling on frozen layers of snowpack that lay on a bed of crumbled ice. That bottommost layer, a mass of loose ice crystals formed by freezing and thawing, lubricated the acres of snow lying on top of it just as much as if the bed had been made of marbles, and sent the snow careening down the mountain.

The miners called such a phenomenon a “slab avalanche” because a curtain of snow slid down the slope, picking up speed at a terrible rate, until it reached one hundred miles an hour. Nothing stood in the way of the terrifying slide, because the mountainside was bare of trees. They had been torn out forty years earlier in the second wave of mining that came after the prospectors abandoned gold pans and sluice boxes. Men had trained giant hoses on the mountain, washing dirt down the slope to be processed for precious minerals. Hydraulic mining, as it was called, also rid the mountainside of rocks and trees and underbrush that would have interfered with an avalanche—not that anything could have held back the tons of white that slid down Jubilee Mountain that afternoon. The slide would have taken anything in its path.

This was not the first slide on Jubilee Mountain. The hillside, in fact, was known for avalanches. But it was the worst, and it spilled over into the forest at the edge of the open slope, tearing out small trees by their roots and hurling them into the rushing snow, which turned them into battering rams. A cabin that perched under the pines was wrenched from its foundation, its log walls torn asunder and broken into jackstraws.

The slide rushed onward, churning up chunks of ice the size of boxcars, gathering up abandoned hoses and machinery and the other detritus of mining that lay in its path. It hurtled on, thrashing its deadly cargo about, not slowing when it reached the bottom of the mountain, but instead rushing across the road, filling the gully with snow as heavy as wet cement and flattening the willows. The avalanche hurtled on until it started up Turnbull Mountain. Then, at last, its momentum came to an end and the slide was exhausted, the front stopping first, the back end slipping down the mountain and filling the gulch with snow higher than a two-story house.

Snow hovered in the air like a deadly mist. The debris caught up in the avalanche rolled a little and was still. A jack pine, graceful as a sled, glided to a stop in the snow covering the road. Clumps of snow fell from the trees still standing at the edge of the deadly white mass, making plopping sounds as they landed. Snowballs broke loose and rolled down the hill, leaving little trails in their wake.

For an instant, all was quiet, as silent as if the slide had occurred in a primeval forest. Then a high-pitched scream came from somewhere in the mass of snow, a child’s scream. The slide thundered down Jubilee Mountain just after the grade school let out, and it grabbed up nine of thirty-two schoolchildren in its icy grip. Five of the victims were related, the children of the Patch sisters—Dolly’s three, who were Jack, Carrie, and Lucia, along with Lucy’s two, Rosemary and Charlie. The slide was no respecter of class, because it took Schuyler Foote, son of the manager of the Fourth of July Mine, and little Jane Cobb, the Negro girl, whose father labored in the mill, and Sophie Schnable, the daughter of a prostitute. And then there was Emmett Carter, that near-orphan boy who lived with his grandfather. All of them were swept up and carried along in that immense swirl of white.

Four of the children survived.

WHITER THAN SNOW Copyright © 2010 by Sandra Dallas.

Meet the Author

Award-winning author Sandra Dallas was dubbed "a quintessential American voice" by Jane Smiley, in Vogue Magazine. She is the author of The Bride's House, Prayers for Sale and Tallgrass, among others. Her novels have been translated into a dozen languages and optioned for films. She is the recipient of the Women Writing the West Willa Award and the two-time winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award. For 25 years, Dallas worked as a reporter covering the Rocky Mountain region for Business Week, and started writing fiction in 1990. She lives with her husband in Denver, Colorado.

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Whiter Than Snow 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
wordwrite More than 1 year ago
We live in an electronic age - but one of life's greatest delights is to curl up with a good book and through it be transported to another age. My most recent favorite portal is "Whiter Than Snow", by author Sandra Dallas. Ms. Dallas creates people, in places, doing things. Her writing is so richly evocative that the reader actually experiences the story: hearing the voices, smelling the food cooking, seeing what is just outside the window. This latest of her books begins with these words: "No one knew what triggered the Swandyke avalanche that began at exactly 4:10 p.m. on April 20, 1920." There follows a cast of people affected by the experience, each of whom brings to it his or her life history. Ms. Dallas has a gift - her stories all take place in different times (Civil War, early 20th century) and in different places (Iowa, Kansas, Colorado) and each is as real as today, out the front door. Her characters are absolutely three-dimensional and become friends or acquaintances instantly. They vary in age, appearance, perspective - and each single one, male or female, are compelling. I was given "Alice's Tulips" as a gift to read at a conference in which I had only passing interest (but it afforded the chance to spend time with a dear friend who was interested). She had included tiny calico quilt squares as bookmarks - that was my introduction to Sandra Dallas. Since then I have read every word and chafed waiting for the next volume. Because each story is a rich tale unto itself and unrelated to any of the others, each promises to be a whole new vista full of new experiences..and delivers. "Whiter Than Snow" is a more complicated plot than the others; rather than being a drawback, however, it simply draws the reader in to pay close attention - and is this not what we want in a book read for pleasure? It's true - "Whiter Than Snow" is my favorite current portal into another world. However, having read this I predict any lover of delicious stories will hurry to the bookstore for her other stories, one after the other. My FAVORITE favorite Sandra Dallas story? You'll get a different answer each week; suffice it to say that in this age of unending available books, I reread her stories from time to time. They settle heart and clear the mind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the characters and their stories!A great book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Story takes place in the 1900's. A mining town in Colorado has a tragedy that involves families living there. The author takes you through the various lives of the family prior to the accident. It is a very moving story that makes you stop and think about your own family. Beautifully wriiten. I was so moved by the story of these familes. One of Ms. Dallas best. A must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Believe this is a little different from most od Sandra books ENJOYED
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite book by this author
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
decent book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoyed this book from first to last page. Storyline kept me wanting more. Sandra Dallas out did herself!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Shows how you never know what someone will do!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Took this book along while on vacation. Read it every chance I got...finished it in two days. Felt like I was right there with the wonderful characters feeling their emotions alongside them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed immensely- wonderful character development blending time frames. I felt as though I were right there in the experience.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sandra does it again. I love her stories, and this one was everything I have come to know from her writing. She weaved the stories together so well, and kept you on the edge of your seat the whole time.
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