"The Snow Garden"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUL 07, 2002)"Of course, he didn't have the courage to ask me to forget him. He had to rely on some sloppy metaphor. The snow garden. That's what he called it. A Place for people incapable of moving forward, incapable of letting go of their pain."
The Snow Garden is a complicated story, part mystery and part contemplation. It is the story of two friends, Kathyrn Parker and Randall Stone, who attend prestigious Atherton University. They have only been friends for a handful of months, but already they have a deep and abiding trust for each other, a friendship where Kathryn has put him on a pedestal that Randall is desperate never to fall from. Unfortunately, he has begun a secret affair with one of his professors, something that he needs to keep from her. It is a secret that becomes harder to keep when his professor's wife drives her car into the river and dies. Randall becomes suspicious when he pinches some liquor from Eric's liquor cabinet to fill his flask. He knows that Eric's wife was the only one to ever drink, so when he drinks from his flask and becomes sick, he wonders if Eric didn't murder his own wife. This, coupled with the fact that Lisa is not the first of Eric's women to die forces Randall to investigate his lover.
Who is Randall? Why did he begin his single-minded seduction of his professor? Was it because of Eric's marvelous book, where he discusses Hieronymus Bosch, or does he have a different purpose? What about the mysterious burns on his legs, and do they have a connection with the story he gave Kathryn, about a boy who derails a train?
In this story, the mystery is central to the plot, but it is not what the story is about. This book is far more concerned with the use of sexuality and the power of it. For , one of the minor characters is a gorgeous man named Jesse, Randall's roommate and a man Kathryn hates on sight. He's decent enough to her, but she despises the fact that he seems to sleep with a different girl every night. He claims to just be giving the girls what they really want, but she suspects him of being a sexual manipulator, enjoying the power of his conquests more than the act itself. She may not be far wrong. She herself has been used in a similar way, and therefore uses her openly homosexual best friend as a wall between her and members of the opposite sex. As long as she has Randall to pal around and do things with, what does she need with a boyfriend? Lauren, one of her friends, a moth who was once drawn to Jesse's flame and incinerated also has issues she has to live through. Her uncle raped her as a child, and in an essay once said, "How can I embrace my sexuality when all it wants to do is sink its teeth into me?" Even Randall, who we learn to really like, seems to have no qualms when using his body to get what he wants.
In a way, I think we're being asked a question -- what is our responsibility to each other as sexual beings? It seems that the answer is that we are responsible, and that our job should be to use the power inherent in sex to do no harm, that just because we are beautiful, or because we have the need, we have no right to take that need out on another person without using our conscious. The consequences of our actions when we do so are not just the normal ones of disease or pregnancy, but the ruins we might leave in another person's soul. Through out this book the image of Hieronymus Bosch's master peace, The Garden of Earthly Delights shows up, reminding us of his supposed beliefs, that the devil lurks in any bodily pleasure, and to be saved, one must separate from the physical as much as possible, and live only in the spiritual.
Again, it is Rice's characters that make this book work. They are complicated, fascinating people that we need to follow through the pages to the end of the tale. Like his previous novel, A Density of Souls, it is a worthy meditation on our own natures, and how we come to deal with them.
- Amazon readers rating: from 118 reviews
Read an excerpt from The Snow Garden at MostlyFiction.com(back to top)
"A Density of Souls"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUL 21, 2002)
"A Sheet of raindrops hit the roofs of the tombs, and a thick mist gradually filled the alley. When the first roll of thunder crackled, Meredith saw Stephen suddenly lift his head. His blue eyes widened and he screamed."
The last lines of my summary make this sound a bit like a murder mystery. It isn't, really. True, what really happened comes into play, but only at the end. The real story is about Stephen, and how he deals with becoming comfortable with his homosexuality, and how he heals from the horrors of high school. He's not the only one trying to heal...Meredith is also trying to get her life back together. There is a large cast of characters whose minds we visit, all of whom are well drawn. There's Elise, Brandon and Jordan's mother, Monica who suspects her son might have had more to do with the suicide than she will ever let on, and Jordan, who comes back to town and tries to find out why his brother has disappeared. The characters are what keep you reading, for they are all interesting people who all have little secrets that unravel as the plot progresses.
The main theme is how a homosexual young man makes sense of himself, and it is handled well and sensitively. Anyone, no matter what his or her gender or orientation, can feel for him. Who doesn't have to try and figure out who they really are, and how to become comfortable in your own skin? In seeing inside the mothers' minds, we get a glimpse of how a mother resigns herself, or embraces what her child is. In seeing his high school life, we are reminded how cruel our fellow humans can be, and how deeply they can mark us even though we try to deny them the ability to. We also see how people react to homosexuality, and the violence that not being accepting of it in others...or themselves...can create.
This is a thoughtful story, one that forces you to try and see outside of yourself. What I mean is, it asks two questions that make you step back and ask yourself things that require distance to answer truthfully. The book asks you to decide how open you are with other people's differences and if, indeed, you are comfortable with yourself to be so open. This story resolves well, but it is not a cheery story, you will not jump up out of your chair and hum a happy tune. It is a soul-heavy book, and hence the name is quite accurate.
- Amazon readers rating: from 354 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- A Density of Souls (2000)
- The Snow Garden (2002)
- Light Before Day (2005)
- Blind Fall (2008)
- The Moonlit Earth (April 2010)
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- Official website for Christopher Rice
- Identity Theory interview with Christopher Rice
- January Magazine interview with Christopher Rice
- Business Know-How review of A Density of Souls
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