February Book Review: Snowdrift by Lisa McGonigle

Angie Abdou
Art & Entertainment

February’s review is a no-brainer: a book set in Fernie, written by a Fernie writer and published by a Fernie press. Of course, you’re going to read Lisa McGonigle’s ski-bum memoir Snowdrift. With any luck, you can also share a beer with Lisa at the Brickhouse and have her sign your own locally purchased copy. Isn’t Fernie great?

Snowdrift opens with Lisa’s story of her first encounter with snowboarding and her realization that she wanted to spend as much time as possible outdoors in the mountains, preferably waist-deep in snow. No mere Weekend Warrior, Lisa decisively acted on this epiphany, quitting her PhD at Oxford and moving to Canada to pursue the ski-bum life. One should, Lisa explains, work to live rather than the other way around. Forget the Oxford PhD: suddenly, Lisa’s existence was simplified to the point where her main goal could be articulated in three words: getting fresh lines. While this decision might be surprising to some audiences, I imagine my toque-clad Fernie readership nodding sagely. Of course, Lisa left Oxford to spend winters in Fernie. Of course, one should never live to work. Duh.

We are Lisa’s ideal readers. We get her already. And she gets us. Be warned: you’re in this book.

This ski-bum memoir is composed of e-mails Lisa wrote during her winters in Fernie and Rossland. Snowdrift, therefore, has an immediacy, intimacy and honesty not usually found between the covers of the book. It reads like a letter from a close friend – because that’s exactly what it is.

I’m going to admit (sorry, Lisa and Randal) that I was initially skeptical about this project. I heard Lisa read from Snowdrift as a work-in-progress at the Fernie Writers’ Conference where she was mentored by Sid Marty. Her reading was great; she made me laugh, cry, and nod in recognition...but a book? Of course, Lisa was brilliant on stage. First, she’s cute as can be. Second, she has an adorable Irish accent to be envied by any writer obligated to read in public. Third, her stories are perfect for a live audience—well-paced, funny, personal. But still … a book?

Call me a literary snob, but I couldn’t imagine a whole book composed of e-mails. I hate those mass e-mails from friends I haven’t seen in fifteen years, the ones who think their life is so exciting that I absolutely must endure every second of it with them even though they don’t know my current phone number or hometown. Hate them.

Lisa’s book, though, is nothing like that. What distinguishes her from those writers? Her intelligence, I suppose. Her gifts as a writer. Her self-deprecating humour. Her eye for bizarre detail. She somehow manages to simultaneously be both an insider and an outsider, capturing the strange and wonderful mountain lifestyle from every angle and for all audiences. Whether you’re a ski bum who sees yourself in these pages or a 9-5 worker who gets a voyeuristic thrill from the inside peek at an alternative existence, Snowdrift is guaranteed to delight. Why? Because, miraculously, Lisa manages to be just as charming and engaging on the page as she is in person. You’re going to love this book.

The the official Snowdrift launch – to take place at the Brickhouse Monday January 31. Lisa will be here (all the way from New Zealand) to read from her first book and tell stories of the intensive years of ski-bumming (I mean, research) that went into its composition. Join her to celebrate the start of her writing career.