A Beautiful Bildungsroman: Elle Klass’s As Snow Falls

The bildungsroman – or Coming of Age story – isn’t a genre that gets used a lot these days. Most of the time, a modern novel or short story will encompass a fairly small period of time and deliver a deep study of what happens to those characters within that small time frame. This wasn’t always the case. Back in the days of yore, books would follow a character from birth to adulthood and maybe even to old age and death. Charles Dickens cranked out stories that did this, and so did Charlotte Bronte. There’s something to be said for a novel with that kind of scope. Elle Klass achieves that scope in a mere 65 pages, with her novella As Snow Falls and largely does a pretty good job with a classic bildungsroman story.

As Snow Falls has an old woman in a cabin, as – in the title – snow falls around her. She reflects over her entire life starting from the womb and going to the present. The unnamed narrator talks about her early childhood, her first days in school, high school, college, her first loves, marriage, grandchildren, the death of her parents and husband, and her old age. It’s a huge scope and Klass should be commended for capturing the emotional content of all these events. The uncertainty of adolescence and the post-college years, the sadness of watching an elderly relative grow old, and the struggle of child-rearing are all beautifully rendered by simple, no-frills prose. You really get to know this woman, and feel for her as she recounts her life.

However, I do think As Snow Falls had a few problems that stop it from being a perfect novella. The theme of following the course of a life reminded me a lot of Annie Proulx’s ‘Job History’ from her famous Close Range short story collection, but Proulx was able to tell that story in a few pages, while Klass’s tale stretches to a full novella. It might be a little unfair to make the comparison, but I think that Klass could have edited it down a bit to achieve perfection. Also, As Snow Falls doesn’t have much in the way of a driving conflict. Like most lives, problems arise and are dealt with, but they don’t stick around or really affect the protagonist too much. Lots of drama might not be necessary in this sort of story, which is really about cataloging a life, but more conflict would have helped to hold my attention. Finally, Klass didn’t really have any details about the specific time the story is set. One character goes off to war, but nobody ever says what the war is. I suppose it’s Vietnam because helicopters are mentioned, but having no major details about the world around the characters makes everything feel a little too vague.

Still, As Snow Falls does a great job with following a woman throughout her life. I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading a story with an ambitious sense of scope and a great deal of heart.

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