Soccer Dads, Clever Kids, and Logical Loops
Author: Blake Crouch
When planning for a thirty+ hour plane flight with limited baggage space, I knew I had to choose the perfect reading material. After Dark Matter and Recursion I wanted (no, correction, needed) to read more of Blake Crouch’s fantastical, twisty, dark sci-fi. I picked Snowbound because it was available on Kindle, I didn’t want to start a series, and I liked the write-up. After a few chapters in, I realized that I had made a mistake. Snowbound is not the typical above-and-beyond Crouch fair recent readers have come to expect. It’s an erratic, illogical, wannabe thriller.
It starts when Rachel Innis is brutally abducted on a deserted highway. The next morning, Will, Rachel’s husband, realizes she never came home and starts to get frightened. The police show up, explaining what they found. A broken-down car, a shattered window, blood. And they suspect Will. In the first illogical move of a progressively fantastical story, Will takes his terminally ill daughter and goes on the run. He didn’t abduct Rachel, but he is terrified that the police won’t believe him, that they will take his daughter. Because police in books never need to look for or prove evidence, I guess.
And so, an implausible, easily achieved life on the run begins. Devlin (the daughter) is suitably tough and pragmatic, as children in thrillers always are. She isn’t happy with her life, but nevertheless the father and daughter get on, surviving on their love for one another, despite the dogged grief. One day, a pretty FBI agent, Kalyn, tracks Will down. She believes him. Her sister, Lucy, went missing in the same fashion and she believes that with Will’s help, she can locate the gang of men who have steadily been abducting women from lonely roadsides for years. I mean – why use the resources of the FBI when you could just team up with a random soccer dad?
Then there is the stilted dialogue. The simple sentences and ridiculous pretenses. The chases, with Kalyn trying to sneak into this ring of human traffickers with the help of an average guy whose terminally ill daughter naturally tags along and makes the perfect crime fighting sidekick. It was all so ridiculous, so prosaic, so worthy of those movies that run at two or three in the morning on the crappy channels that can’t afford anything better. I stuck with it, not so much out of loyalty, as out of desperation. Thirty hours on a plane (with a screaming infant in front of you and one behind you) doesn’t leave you with many choices. Although I did resort to TV and movies to escape Snowbound. One of the very rare occasions where this dedicated bookworm sought out TV over books.
I took months to finish this book. Even when I was done with my trip, it was still there, unfinished and plodding. But . . . I had paid for the overpriced Kindle version. So, I kept forcing myself to read a chapter here and there. Finally, it started to get a little better, to find its feet when the group makes it out to a desolate, snowy mountain location, breaking into a mansion of high rollers where the trafficked women are kept as sex slaves.
While some of the elements are realistic(ish) compared to the rest of the book, even this higher octane, focused section has problems. For one thing, the fact that the traffickers have trained wolves to protect them is absurd. Especially because the wolves sometimes conveniently attack the bad guys when the good guys most need them too. And then, there is Kalyn and her plot, which goes out of control and completely out of character, upping the stakes, but throwing away all that interminable getting-to-know her stuff in the beginning. And the ending – what did that last chapter even mean??
The action gets pretty good, once our trio arrives at the mansion (yes, the ill girl is conveniently healthy enough for all the battles and attacks and fights wolves and men with guns). It’s impossible to believe, but at least it is consistent and finally, finally interesting. The action was nicely done (most of the time), and I was invested enough in the idea to see it through.
Snowbound is not traditional Crouch, or at least Crouch at his best. It’s a so-so novel that had some promise and a fairly decent pretense (at times) but lacks the dedication of authorly love and the basic logic that even the most out-there books have to maintain to keep us in the world. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t love it either. If this had been my first encounter with Crouch, it would have also been my last.
– Frances Carden
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