A. D. Miller’s novel is a mildly interesting look at Russia back in the Wild West days after communism fell. But only mildly. The saving grace, if you could call it that is the fact that it moves along swiftly and I finished it the day after I started it.
Two things about A. D. Miller: this is his first novel and he spent time in Moscow as a correspondent for The Economist. Both of these things show. Voice is important to me in a writer, in a novel. The voice in this one just seemed to me totally inauthentic – sort of an imitation of a noir perspective that was ultimately distracting: “in a parallel universe, in another life, that’s the end of the story”; or, “her voice sounded like it had been through an all-night party. Or a war”. Too many Raymond Chandler novels traveling back and forth between London and Moscow perhaps. The narrator is Nick Platt, a lawyer who recounts his time in Moscow, the schemes he was involved in, and the woman he fell in love with. The narration is after the fact and comes as a confessional to the woman (unnamed) he is about to marry. It’s a novel of unburdening, a novel of confession, a novel of coming to full self-awareness. He writes
I think you have a right to know all of it. I thought it would be easier if I wrote it all down.
On the Metro one day he stares at two young women a little too long, then saves them from a purse-snatcher. Game on. There are three story arcs in Miller’s novel. The one with the two sisters and his affair with Masha which turns out to have overlays of swindling and corruption is the main one. The other involved Platt’s business in Moscow as a lawyer for Banks looking to make money by participating in the fast moving oil schemes of that time in Russia. Lastly, there is the minor theme (minor in the sense that not a lot of time is spent on it – though it reoccurs, frequently). This one involves the title itself, “Snowdrops”. Snowdrops is a Russian term that refers to the thaw after a long winter’s hard freeze. The thaw reveals bodies lost in the winter, for reasons natural and criminal. The bodies are called “Snowdrops”.
The novel ends with the final revelation of his self-awareness to his fiance. If one was really made to care about this character, one would wonder if his fiance would still marry him. But I didn’t much wonder as I closed the book (or to be completely accurate, as I clicked off my i-Pad).
I’d somehow become the sort of person who would go along with it, whatever it was, sensing but not caring that it was no good, fixing the forms and smiling so long as I got what I needed. The kind of person I never knew I could be until I came to Russia. But I could be, and I was.