A mother and daughter travel from abroad to meet in Tokyo: they walk along the canals through the autumn evenings, escape the typhoon rains, share meals in small cafes and restaurants, and visit galleries to see some of the city's most radical modern art. All the while, they talk: about the weather, horoscopes, clothes, and objects, about family, distance, and memory. But uncertainties abound. Who is really speaking here—is it only the daughter? And what is the real reason behind this elliptical, perhaps even spectral journey?
The narrator of Jessica Au’s slim, spectral novel Cold Enough for Snow is a hungry observer, full of questions about her place in the world ... Au’s novel, written without any chapter breaks, deftly uses stream of consciousness to explore the legacy of inherited family traits and the difficulty of breaking away ... The way that Au injects matter-of-fact descriptions with existential angst reminds me of no writer so much as Albert Camus.
The tenor of the narration is hardly effusive. Yet the effect is of the gentle quiet of snowfall, rather than the lethal frigidity of an icicle ... Au’s is a book of deceptive simplicity, weaving profound questions of identity and ontology into the fabric of quotidian banality ... Nuanced ... Not much happens in Au’s novel...but nonetheless, significant emotions, memories, and thoughts are meaningfully conveyed. What matters, the novel reassures us, is constantly imbricated with the everyday, just as alienation and tender care can coexist in the same moment.
Slim and sly ... The daughter narrates in calm prose that evokes the sound of a rake carefully tracing a pattern in sand. Along the way, she shares a few memories ... From the start, there are signs that mother and daughter are dancing around something. But it’s hard for the characters—much less the reader—to say what that something might be ... Buried secrets and repressed memories are common storytelling devices, the supposed treasures that many atmospheric novels of consciousness use to entice readers. In otherwise loosely plotted narratives, such treasures keep us digging ... At times, Au seems to be encouraging this very approach ... As a reader, it’s easy to feel...that your own brushstroke-detecting ability is being tested. Like most tests, it isn’t exactly relaxing ... That sense of failure—to see sharply enough, to read closely enough—creates its own peculiar form of engagement ... And yet the novel, at its best, also complicates this metric of success, throwing doubt on the inherent value of uncovering what’s hidden ... If we search relentlessly for pentimenti, we risk missing the actual picture ... Au’s novel is perhaps most masterly in the way it evokes our dissociation from desire—our own and other people’s ... In the end, the trip isn’t a bust, and neither is the book that it yields. The narrator may not have unearthed anything dramatic...from her mother’s past, but she has been alive to, and curious about, the present in that particular way ... We are often prone to see other people...as mysteries we can’t help trying to solve ... Cold Enough for Snow understands this impulse, but makes the quiet case for another approach, one that might be more common in life than our novels tend to allow, and that we might simply call, for lack of any more technical term, being together while we can.