Within the last few weeks we’ve mentioned books that took several attempts at reading before they fully hooked us. One of those for me is Snow Falling on Cedars – part murder mystery, part love story, altogether literary. The story opens on the small fictional island of San Piedro on the Washington coast where a man of Japanese descent is on trial for the murder of a local fisherman and war veteran. I put the book aside twice before I was able to make the investment required to finish it. These are some of the things the author did extremely well which made me glad that I did:
- The use of setting to establish the tone. “San Piedro is an island of five thousand damp souls…” which had “a verdant beauty that inclined its residents toward the poetical.”
- The storm completely cuts off the town from the rest of the world while the inhabitants are confronted with their prejudices stemming from WWII. The local reporter wishes “it would snow recklessly and bring to the island the impossible winter purity, so rare and precious, he remembered fondly from his youth.” He gets his wish and a lifetime of memories surface during the proceedings. The town’s power is restored just at the close of the trial as the jury is deliberating.
- The use of the metaphor of the salmon racing to spawn and meeting an insurmountable obstacle, mirroring the defendant’s own situation. “He imagined them slamming against his net in astonishment at this invisible thing that finished their lives in the last days of an urgent journey.” He was so close to realizing his own dreams, only to be locked away in a cell accused of murder.
- A pivotal moment when the reporter realizes that his father had more integrity than he. He is spending thoughtful moments in his deceased father’s office when the power is restored to the house, and he “heard water moving in the pipes and the drip from the taps he’s left open.” His father’s influence moves in his life once more, including the knowledge that he must forgive and move on after life's disappointments.
What extraordinary examples of setting and/or personification (the storm) stand out in your mind?