Authors: Stewart O'Nan
“A striking debut . . . a remarkable talent . . . painfully real.”
“The first pages of the novel are so seductive that I could not put the book down. What begins as a murder mystery, quiet and disturbing, opens into a searing evocation of family lives that are turned to ice by men and women no longer able to distinguish the sacred from the profane. Stewart O'Nan's prose is spare and translucent. His story is chilling and unexpectedly tender. Like Truman Capote's
In Cold Blood, Snow Angels
will become a contemporary classic.”
“Stunningly heartbreaking . . . It has an air of the intricately beautiful tragedies of Edith Wharton. . . . All [the characters] are flawlessly imprinted, like perfect snow angels with no tracks leading away.”
“Assured and affecting . . . The novel's elegiac tone is perfectly controlled.”
“An impressive achievement: a universal yet never generic examination of a small-town tragedy. . . . Solid and skillful.”
“[A] beautifully composed and deeply felt tale of domestic tragedy. O'Nan tells us this sorrowful tale without a shred of sensationalism, ushering us quietly into the squeezed hearts of his characters, respectful of their traumas and awed by how limited in life our choices truly are.”
“Compelling . . . A beautifully bleak and simple story with the power to move, draped in haunting imagery and rich with the realism of the working class. Few first-time novelists are able to provide such clarity, such heart-wrenching and yet dispassionate storytelling.”
“Richly complex . . .
has the touch of a master.”
“A beautiful, bleak novel.”
The Night Country
Wish You Were Here
A Prayer Jor the Dying
A World Away
The Speed Queen
The Names of the Dead
In the Walled City
The Circus Fire
The Vietnam Reader
On Writers and Writing
, by John Gardner
. Copyright Â© 1994 by Stewart O'Nan. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
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One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
by Dr. Seuss. TM and copyright Â© 1960 and renewed 1988 by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
Excerpt from “Returning” from
For the Union Dead
by Robert Lowell. Copyright Â© 1964 by Robert Lowell and copyright renewed Â© 1992 by Harriet Lowell, Sheridan Lowell and Caroline Lowell. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.
The author gratefully acknowledges the support of the Pirates' Alley William Faulkner Society, with special thanks to Joe DeSalvo and Rosemary James, and to my generous benefactress. Mrs. Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
O'Nan, Stewart, 1961â
Snow angels: a novel / Stewart O'Nan.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â p. cm.
ISBN 0-312-42276-8Â Â ISBN 978-0-312-42276-9
PS3565.N316S65Â Â 1994
First published in the United States by Doubleday,
a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
First Picador Edition: October 2003
10Â Â 9Â Â 8Â Â 7Â Â 6
For my mother and father and John
Nothing is deader than this small town main street,
where the venerable elm sickens, and hardens
with tarred cement, where no leaf
is born, or falls, or resists till winter.
But I remember its former fertility,
how everything came out clearly
in the hour of credulity
and young summer, when this street
was already somewhat overshaded,
and here at the altar of surrender,
I met you,
the death of thirst in my brief flesh.
WAS IN THE BAND
the fall my father left, in the second row of trombones, in the middle because I was a freshman. Tuesdays and Wednesdays after school we practiced in the music room, but on Fridays Mr. Chervenick led us outside in our down jackets and
tasseled Steeler hats and shitkicker boots and across the footbridge that spanned the interstate to the middle school soccer field, where, like the football team itself, we ran square-outs and curls and a maneuver Mr. Chervenick called an oblique, with which, for the finale of every halftime show, we describedâall 122 of usâa whirling funnel approximating our school's nickname, the Golden Tornadoes. We never got it quite right, though every Friday Mr. Chervenick tried to inspire us, scampering across the frost-slicked grass in his chocolate leather coat and kid gloves and cordovans to herd us into formation untilâin utter disgustâinstead of steering a wayward oboe back on course he would simply arrest him or her by the shoulders so the entire block of winds had to stop, and then the brass and the drums, and we would have to start all over again.
Late one Friday in mid-December we were working on the tornado. Dusk had begun to fill the air and it was snowing, but Saturday was our last home game and Mr. Chervenick persuaded the janitor to turn on the lights. An inch or so had fallen during the day and it was impossible to see the lines. “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” Mr. Chervenick shouted. When the girl pulling the xylophone slipped and twisted her ankle, he blew his whistle three times, which meant we were to line up for a final chastising pep talk before we could
leave. He climbed the three steps of his little wheeled podium and let us stand in silence for a minute so we would realize how disappointed he was. Snow piled up in our hair. Beyond the sea of flakes drifting through the high lights came the ringing drone of a tractortrailer's chains on the interstate. In the valley, muffled by a ceiling of clouds, lay the burning grid of Butler, the black river, the busy mills.
“We have all worked very hard this year,” he said, and paused, breathing steam, as if speaking to a stadium, waiting for his words to circle. Beside me Warren Hardesty muttered somethingâa joke, a rejoinderâand then we heard what I immediately identified (from my own .22, my father's Mossberg, the nightly news from Vietnam) as gunshots. A clump of them. They crackled like fireworks, echoed over the bare trees on the other side of the highway. They were close. The band turned to them in unison, something Mr. Chervenick could never get us to do.
It had just turned deer season, and we all knew the power company had a clearcut through there behind the water tower, as well as the rights to the few overgrown fields carved out of the woods, but all of us with guns knew the land was posted, too close to the road and the school. And the time wasn't right for hunting, the light was gone. We looked to each other as if to confirm our surprise.
Mr. Chervenick seemed to understand too, though he was not the hunting type. He praised our dedication, excused us and, instead of leading us back over the footbridge, headed across the empty parking lot for the lit doors of the middle school and stood there rapping on the glass until the janitor let him in.
What we had heard was someone being murdered, someone most of us knew, if dimly. Her name was Annie Marchand, and I knew her firstâyears before thisâmerely as Annie the babysitter. Her name at that time was Annie Van Dorn. She lived, then, with her parents, the next house down the road from us. We were not strictly neighbors; between our new hi-ranch and their boxy Greek Revival stretched a mile-wide field Mr. Van Dorn leased to an old farmer named Carlsen. Yet whenever my mother and father decided to escape for dinner out or to a movie, Mr. Van Dorn's truck would pull up at the bottom of our drive and out would pop Annie with her purse and her schoolbooks, ready to whip me at Candyland and train my sister Astrid to draw on eyeliner.
I suspect that at first Astrid was more in love with her than I was. At thirteen Annie was taller than our mother, and strikingly thin. Her red hair came to her waist; her fingers were covered with rings from admirers. She smelled of the Van Dorns' oil furnace and Secret deodorant and Juicy Fruit gum, and she made
pizza and sang “Ruby Tuesday” and, for me, “Mr. Big Stuff.” Our daydreams, I admit, included her becoming our mother. Once we had an evening-long argument with her over the word “milk,” which weâlike most Western Pennsylvaniansâpronounced “melk,” but it did nothing to mediate our crush on her. This went on for years, like a grand affair. She left us only when my sister was old enough to watch me, and by then Annie was out of school and working, and sometimes my mother could not get her for Fridays anyway. We'd see her driving by in her brother Raymond's Maverick or riding behind her boyfriend on his Honda, but rarely. For a few years she becameâby her proximity and absenceâdistant and mysterious. My bedroom faced the field, and at night I studied the yellow eyes of her house and pictured her in her darkened room looking back at me.