Atmosphere

The Sweet Hereafter

Denver author Sandra Dallas captivates readers with her portrayal of a small mountain town stricken by natural disaster.

April 2010

Any other book about the residents of a sleepy 1920s mining town might lull us into Yawnsville, but Dallas' ninth and latest novel, Whiter Than Snow (St. Martin's Press, April), kept us flipping pages eagerly. With the frank and endearing voice we've come to expect from the two-time Western Writers of America Spur Award winner, Dallas tells a thoughtful tale of compassion and survival that transcends the hardscrabble setting and speaks to anyone who's suffered through a sudden mass tragedy.

Dallas' characters, residents of the fictional town of Swandyke, live in the shadow of Colorado's Tenmile Range and are divided by circumstance and scandal. There's the standoffish, wealthy wife of the mine owner; the African-American man living in refuge from a tortured past; the estranged sisters torn by romantic betrayal; the haunted Civil War veteran; and the Jewish prostitute who conceals her motherhood from the town. What brings this disparate cast together, in the aftermath of an unforgiving avalanche that pummels their town, is the one thing they have in common: a fierce love for their offspring. The slide buries nine children on their way home from school, and the parents, united in their terror, wait for frantic digging to uncover a familiar mitten or boot.

Dallas is so adept at drawing you into the stories of each character that it's easy to genuinely identify with their emotional upheaval as they contemplate the chances of survival. But even as devastation drapes the town, strength emerges in the friendships—and forgiveness—that follow. Without slipping into sappiness, Dallas has crafted a touching portrait of small-town humanity—a read unquestionably worthy of a rainy afternoon and a good cup of tea.