Cold Enough for Snow
The narrator of Cold Enough for Snow is visiting Japan with her mother. “We did not live in the same city anymore, and had never really been away together as adults,” she writes, “but I was beginning to feel that it was important, for reasons I could not yet name.” Together, they explore museums and galleries, restaurants and bookshops, a cemetery, a bathhouse and a church, each place carefully chosen by the daughter “for what [her mother] might like to see”.
What happens – that is, any ostensible narrative a reader might discern – is much less important than the ways in which these experiences are recounted. Each scene is composed of acute, yet unforced, poetry. Bricks “the colour of mushrooms”. A park “the way I had imagined parks to be in my childhood, wooded and dim and wet, a world within a world”. The mother stating that “the best we could do in this life was to pass through it, like smoke through the branches”.
The narrator observes – with an unspoken shame, melancholy resignation and quiet love – the many ways in which she and her mother experience the trip, and life itself, differently. Her mother declines a newspaper the daughter offers her on a train, “happy to look at the view”. At an art gallery, the daughter loses sight of her mother and finds her outside, tired, waiting on a stone bench. Later, she realises a planned walk along a forest trail is impractical, and to push her mother to do it “would have been almost cruel”.
Cold Enough for Snow is a generous meditation on the subjectivity of experience, and how the stories held within a family can be strangely disparate, especially when migration is part of their history. Throughout their journey, the narrator finds herself pulled into memories, pondering what is true and what is precious. She discovers, again and again, the failure of words to capture the ineffable. “I wanted to speak more … but found I could not.”
Above all, this is a book that resists any easy summary, offering the reader the complexities of experience itself – paradox and suggestion, rather than the glib resolutions of epiphany. The clarity and intimacy of Jessica Au’s prose are bracing, and a subtle elegiac undercurrent that builds through the course of this brief novel makes its final pages peculiarly moving.
Giramondo, 108pp, $24.95
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 12, 2022 as "Cold Enough for Snow, Jessica Au".
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