But the city is now obscured, as it often is, by the whitened mass in which it rests -- rushing by us at unfathomable speed, crackling like wind in the mist, cold to the touch, glistening and unfolding, tumbling over itself like the steam of an engine or cotton spilling from a bale. Through the blinding white web of ceaseless sound flows past mercilessly, the curtain is breaking...it reveals amid the clouds a lake of air as smooth and clear as a mirror, the deep round eye of a white hurricane.
No Renaissance engine belching fire or hurtling stone could keep pace with even one white clap of a New York winter, and winter there clapped as endlessly as a paddlewheel on one of the big white boats slapping across the lake in seasons gone by. Battalions of arctic clouds droned down from the north to bomb the state with snow, to bleach it as white as young ivory, to mortar it with frost that would last from September to May.
A New York City friend who tells me she bought Singapore: A Novel of the Bronx, by Joe Bernardini, because she couldn't resist a novel about the Bronx written by someone named Joe Bernardini, pointed out to me Bernardini's snow scene as an example of non-romanticized urban snow:
In all fairness to the Bronx, snow is greeted with great cheers of delight. The smiles and laughter of this otherwise grim borough are few and far between and I'd be remiss in not mentioning them when they do occur. The snowball fights we used to have in the lot constituted the happiest moments of my youth. I was deadly with a snowball. Single-handed I'd rout Leon and is cohorts from their hiding places and send them scurrying into he building. Then, anticipating their taunts from the hallway windows, my snowballs would find the enemy as soon as their startled heads appeared. I recall throwing a snowball that landed wide of the mark. It struck the window of a recluse who was forever sitting with his nose pressed against the pane. He appeared to be staring straight at me, there was no way possible for him to overlook the snowball, and yet as the snowball approached and then struck his window he didn't budge an inch. Frightened out of my wits, I ran all the way up to Bainbridge and returned hours later when it was dark.
The light from the street lamp illumined his window and I saw that a piece of cardboard had been wedged against the opening and above the cardboard I was even able to make out the man's forehead and a few wisps of hair. He was sitting there with his nose pressed against the cardboard. Do you understand? Snow was falling on the Bronx. For several hours a clean, white blanket would cover the grime. Then dogs would yellow it with their pee and boots would riddle it with holes and soot belched from the incinerators would settle on its surface and it would turn to slush, and it contrast to the few white patches that remained, the Bronx would appear even grimier than before. So snow meant nothing to him. It was still the Bronx.
Reading Katherine Mansfield's journal entry for December 28, 1914, with its expanding exterior vision covered over with white, white, white, white, white, heightens one's awareness of snow's potential as dramatic medium.
Snow has fallen, and everything is white. ... I love to close my eyes a moment and think of the land outside, white under the mingled snow and moonlight -- white trees, white fields -- the heaps of stones by the roadside white -- snow in the furrows.
Snow passages in fiction and poetry are splendid opportunities for writers to set up dazzling pictorial contrasts. Peter Handke's The Afternoon of a Writer offers this: He switched off all the lights. Because of the snow and the reflection of the city in the clouds, it was lightin all the rooms, a nocturnal light that made the objects in the rooms all the darker.
In another example of this use of snow for effects of visual contrast, there is in Kawabata's novel a paragraph in which his emotionally frozen male character watches a geisha as she looks at herself in a mirror that reflects both her face and the snow outside the window.
The white in the depths of the mirror was the snow, and floating in the middle of it were the woman's bright red cheeks.
An early scene in Banks's Affliction , a deer hunt, is another of passage in which snow's whiteness and purity is used as a graphic contrast medium.
Slugs, pellets, balls made of aluminum lead, steel, rip into the body of the deer, crash through bone, penetrate and smash organs, rend muscle and sinew. Blood splashes into the air, across tree bark, stone, onto smooth white blankets of snow, where scarlet fades swiftly to pink.Black tongue lolls over blooded teeth, as if the mouth were a carnivore's; huge brown eyes roll back, glassed over, opaque and dry; blood trickles from carbon-black nostrils, shit spits steaming into the snow; urine, entrails, blood, mucus spill from the animal's body: as heavy-booted hunters rush across the frozen snow-covered ground to claim the kill.
Perhaps precisely because snow offers such a canvas on which to draw contrasts, mystery, suspense, thriller, and horror writers show a fondness for wintry settings. Offhand, these come to mind: Le Carre's The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Ngaio Marsh's Death and the Dancing Footman, Chesterton's The Invisible Man, Michael Innes's Appleby's End, Fire Lake, Juris Jurjevics's The Trudeau Vector, Peter Straub's Ghost Story, and closer to home, Chandler's The Lady in the Lake. Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park provides particularly vivid examples of the use of snow as a backdrop for violence. From the first pages Gorky Park provides snowy death scenes. As bits of ice glimmer in the air, a chief investigator for the People's Militia, Arkady Renko, strides through snow "to the telltale humps" in the center of a clearing.