COVER OF SNOW is a noteworthy debut in its own right, but the author deserves special mention as well. New Jersey’s Jenny Milchman is the founder of “Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day.” Need I say more? Milchman would earn street cred --- and at least a careful read --- by virtue of being associated with such a worthy organization. The good news here is that she doesn’t need it, as her first novel stands perfectly on its own.
"COVER OF SNOW is quite dark in tone and mood, which in turn contrasts with the backdrop of ever-present snow literally blanketing every scene.... This is a memorable debut from an author who promises much and delivers."
Milchman is one of those authors who is capable of painting a mood of foreboding within an opening sentence or two. So it is that when Nora Hamilton awakes in bed alone on a cold winter morning, full of good thoughts and memories of the night before, the reader simply knows that things are turning badly even as each sentence progresses. By way of introduction, Nora and Brendan Hamilton are college sweethearts who married and live in a small town in the Adirondacks, a town where Brendan grew up and where his warmhearted aunt and very emotionally distant mother still reside. Nora restores homes, while Brendan is an officer with the local police department, which is run by a third-generation police chief and staffed with a number of Brendan’s high school friends, among others.
Lest one think that they have stumbled into a modern-day version of “The Andy Griffith Show,” COVER OF SNOW fires a shot across the bow within a first couple of pages with Brendan’s sudden and totally unexpected suicide. Nora is beside herself, having no idea what might have driven her husband to commit such an act when their lives seemed almost idyllic. It is only in the aftermath of Brendan’s death that Nora gradually begins to uncover her husband’s past history and realizes how little she knew about the man she thought she knew so well. It wasn’t so much that Brendan concealed things (a childhood tragedy here, a relationship there), it’s that he simply never talked about anything --- from the reason for his almost total estrangement from his mother to a family member Nora never knew existed.
Nora’s explorations into Brendan’s life in the aftermath of his death are unwelcomed in many quarters for a number of different reasons. Yet the information she obtains come from the most unexpected sources, including a garage mechanic who is regarded as simple, yet is often the smartest person in the room, as well as a seemingly innocuous missing persons report. The truth behind Brendan’s self-inflicted demise is not just painful to behold, though indeed, that would be more than enough to leave Nora (and the reader) shattered; it’s also, as Nora will find before the conclusion of the book, very dangerous.
COVER OF SNOW is quite dark in tone and mood, which in turn contrasts with the backdrop of ever-present snow literally blanketing every scene. The weather is not a friend to Nora; rather, it is cold, treacherous, concealing and unrelenting. One does not think of Christmas, sleigh bells or family reunions but rather of frostbite, hazardous traveling, and chills from within and without. And of course, much can be concealed under a “cover of snow.” This is a memorable debut from an author who promises much and delivers.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 17, 2013