College is a time for students to embark on new lives as independent adults and in Christopher Rice’s sexually sinister novel the forage for these particular students is certainly far from anything that is to be expected. Quiet and chaste Kathryn Parker has left a life in California far behind her as she begins anew at Atherton University. The campus is on the opposite coast from her past and with the almost constant companionship of her flashy, confident and gay best friend Randall Stone, she can start fresh. Randall has a past of his own that barely gets a mention beyond “rich parents on Park Avenue” and for a time, his secrets are also all his own. Randall and Kathryn move amongst a colorful blend of classmates, including the openly sexual and harsh Jesse Lowry, Randall’s roommate, who never quite seems to go away.
The novel presses deep into Randall’s affairs/feelings at first, beginning with his romantic affair with art professor Eric Eberman. The relationship between teacher and pupil is anything but innocent but the conversations between the two and the quick level of intimacy that they reach is well-developed and engaging. When Eric’s wife is killed in a car accident, strange things begin to happen and Randall seeks to uncover more in order to hunt for answers.
As the truth of Eric’s wife’s accident begins to emerge, the secrets and the pasts of the main characters also begin to unravel. Kathryn begins to step out of Randall’s shadow as he embarks on his quest for answers and as a result develops as a character and more is revealed about her past in California. Kathryn opens up to graduate student Mitchell, an enemy of Randall’s, about her ex drug dealer boyfriend who willingly infected women with HIV, yet she was spared. This admission explains Kathryn’s indifference to sex which provides a stark contrast to the active and not hidden sexual lives of the rest of the group. Relationships, unhealthy or not, play a pivotal part of The Snow Garden’s intrigue and power. When the dark undertakings on campus begin to see light, the dynamic between the characters shifts and a virtually new story, with a new star emerges.
True identities and motives are revealed and Christopher Rice writes a gripping and imaginative tale that explores not only sexual deviance, but very basic human wants, needs and the stark revelation that secrets and people of the past, end up being a very active part of everyday life. Originally published in 2002, the novel was reissued and polished by the author. Rice’s writing is intimate, his characters different and his content daring. The Snow Garden is a master performance with tiny sub acts and stars creating even more drama and intensity.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.wordpress.com.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Thomas & Mercer. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.