‘Snowmen’ by Steven Millhauser

Many of Millhauser’s stories have this fascinating quality of accretion. Often, some sort of aesthetic endeavor is established, and then over the course of the tale becomes increasingly, impossibly intricate. Here, children awake to a snow day, and set out together to shape the snow into sculptures, but this is not playtime—this is serious business. As they explore their changed neighborhood, the group encounters snowmen so detailed that the narrator wonders whether “bands of feverish children, tormented by white dreams, had worked secretly through the night” to create them. He and his companions, too, become fevered in their attempts to match the works of snow art. This project extends into a second day, and the act of imagination takes a turn toward mania. Beholding their creations fills the narrator with “a sharp, troubled joy.” But like snow, this is not meant to last, and like art-making, the act of finishing a work only satisfies for so long before the compulsion to make one’s mark rises again. 

First published in Grand Street, Winter 1984, and collected in In the Penny Arcade, Dalkey Archive Press, 1986

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