In a small community where everyone knows everyone it's common for someone who is slightly different to feel sharply isolated. In “Girl in the Snow” Danya Kukafka focuses on three distinct characters who are misfits within their Colorado suburb and the way this unlikely trio are brought together when a teenage girl named Lucinda is found dead in a playground one winter day. This novel is a thriller and mystery about how this popular local girl died, but it's moreover an exploration of the way people become estranged from the friends and family who surround them.
Kukafka has a poetic sense of constructing powerful psychological details. An intensity of feeling is distilled into the way characters develop unique patterns for understanding the world. This is most powerfully rendered in her two main teenage characters Cameron and Jade. Quiet, artistic and haunted by the spectre of his disgraced absent father, Cameron comes most vividly alive when he wanders his neighbourhood streets at night looking in at the lighted windows of the houses around him. He thinks of this nocturnal roaming as his 'Collection of Statue Nights' where the people he surreptitiously observes become fixed in place and relatable. During the day he's scorned and mocked by his classmates, but at night they are framed in their windows and at a safe distance. In particular, he's fixated on voyeuristically watching Lucinda's bedroom window and the fact he's produced countless drawings of her proves very suspicious following her death.
Overweight and irascible Jade doesn't mourn the loss of Lucinda so much as the strong friendship she felt with Lucinda's ex-boyfriend Zap. Jade and Zap were equally awkward as children and plotted to escape their town together one day, but Zap has grown into a sporty and confident teenager while Jade is an outside rebel. Her self esteem is continuously crushed under the psychological and physical abuse she receives from her mother. Jade longs to make emotional connections with people but instead of verbalizing this she plots within her head a continuous script for a screenplay she calls 'What You Want to Say But Can't Without Being a Dick.' Here she revises scenes in her head to broach things people don't dare to say in everyday life. However, in reality people see her simply as an angry rude teenager.
Jade comments at one point that everyone has a physical spot they go to when they want to be alone to be who they really are. For policeman Russ this is a mountainous area where he can watch the sunrise. Unlike Cameron and Jade who developed imaginative methods for psychologically removing themselves from their untenable situations, Russ preserves for himself a contemplative physical space that he used to spend time in with his ex-colleague who was also Cameron's father. Here they were able to edge towards desires they couldn't begin to express in normal life. I was moved by the way Kukafka renders these characters' different coping mechanisms and ways of carving out spaces where they can escape social stigma and pressures.
There are inflections in this story of Twin Peaks where a beloved beautiful teen is found dead, a secret diary is discovered and her murder reverberates throughout the community. But unlike that stylistic show laden with symbolism, Kukafka's story evokes the strange ways in which we can become isolated amidst groups of people we see day after day. She sympathetically exhibits the way this causes individuals to become locked within their own internal reality that the people around them can't understand. The same is true for Lucinda whose true story we only glimpse through the perspective of those people who knew her. This is a vividly written and finely plotted novel that warmly beckons you into the lonely lives of its characters.