Moon of the Crusted Snow

by Waubgeshig Rice

Moon of the Crusted Snow explores an apocalypse from the viewpoint of a secluded Anishinaabe community in Northern Ontario. As it’s already only loosely attached to metropolitan Canada in the south––cell and internet service is relatively new and patchy, at best; the recent connection to the Hydro grid is just as reliable, causing the community to lean heavily on their old, diesel generators for power in the harsh winter months––the pace at which the problem reveals itself is much slower, and the response is much different, than what a reader may expect within an urban centre, especially since the band council already had some contingencies in place in case of less widespread disasters. Most of the story follows Evan Whitesky as he and those connected with governance and infrastructure maintenance on the reserve work to keep order and ensure the community’s most vulnerable members have what they need to survive to the spring. But, when a massive white man arrives on snowmobile along with a veritable arsenal, the fragile stability they found becomes jeopardized. In the face of dwindling food supplies, desperation divides an increasingly frightened populace.

I quite honestly had a hard time with this one. Rice seems to understand the need to establish a sort of normal to make a disaster more strongly felt, but any narrative requires even a hint of conflict, even so small to seem inconsequential next to the eventual chaos, in order to cultivate interest. Because the long lead up to the crumbling of society lacked this, that it read like a cast of wooden characters happily living unexciting lives, it sure dragged. Throughout the book, the author spent too much time and too many words explaining things unimportant to plot or character development. This effectively causes details about the setting and the culture that could have been small touches of flavour to make the world come alive instead feel forced and insincere. Exposition is also a major problem within the book, and this is likely a measure of inexperience, that the author worried things would otherwise go unnoticed or misunderstood by his readers unless he overtly explained everything. We don’t get to witness characters and the community changing, but we’re rather told that Evan noticed these changes after they happened. Similarly, we’re overtly told what characters’ tone or non-verbal hints mean instead of allowing us to judge characters’ emotions or intentions on our own, and Rice has characters tell us about harrowing experiences they had rather than bringing us there and letting us see them play out. This comes off as a big problem within Moon of the Crusted Snow, being hugely detrimental to the personality of the characters, cutting into the story’s suspense, and hurting the overall readability of the book.

With Moon of the Crusted Snow, I was hit with the notion, much as I have with at least a couple of recent books, that telling a good story wasn’t the point. What came across instead was that the author wanted to showcase a culture he cares about in a positive light and also to criticize colonialism for causing the problems afflicting these people––both through direct meddling and a reliance the people increasingly have on colonial ways not suited to their values or their environment. Because he attempted to accomplish this through an allegory, the effectiveness of his message is closely linked to the strength of the narrative, and this is where things fell apart for me. But keep in mind that, at the time of writing this, at least, Rice’s book is highly rated on Goodreads, which means that most readers who have checked it out didn’t agree with my assessment. As such, it’s probably best to treat this review as bit of a cautionary tale, nothing more.