Cover of The Snow Fell Three Gaves Deep by Allan Wolf

About the Book

Title: The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep
Published: 2020

Cover Story: Anyone Know Any Creepy Stories?
Drinking Buddy: ‘Timothy’
MPAA Rating: R (cannibalism)
Talky Talk: Tales that Witness Madness
Bonus Factors: Starvation
Bromance Status: Dinner Date

Cover Story: Anyone Know Any Creepy Stories?

It’s bleak, but we don’t totally get the impressions these people have been snacking on their compatriots. The title refers to the 18-foot snowfall that trapped them in the mountains (graves are traditionally six feet deep).

The Deal:

You all know the story. In 1846, a group of 89 settlers set out along the California Trail (not, as would have been more appropriate, the Organ Trail). Due to a run of bad leadership, poor decisions, and crummy luck, the party became stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for over four months, the duration of the winter. When supplies ran out, the resorted to eating their cattle, their dogs, their clothing, and eventually, the human dead. The sensational nature of the events has captured our imagination and nightmares for centuries.

Told from the point of view of various party members, The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep, puts human faces on a tragic event.

Drinking Buddy: ‘Timothy’

Two pints of beer cheersing

Like most immigrant trains, the Donner Party was an eclectic, American slice of life: rich and poor, men and woman, old and young, immigrant and fifth generation, white and Native American, illiterate and scholar, families and loners, etc. There are nine point of view characters, not counting the oxen and the snow. And Hunger. Hunger is our narrator.

MPAA Rating: R (cannibalism)

Aside from the odd serial murderer or Satanist, people don’t eat human flesh unless they’re on the very brink of starvation. We all remember those planewrecked South American rugby players, or the desperate times during the siege of Stalingrad. They even say it happened at Jamestown. Cannibalism is the ultimate taboo, the universal no-no. But as our narrator, Hunger, tells us in gory detail, there’s only so much one body can take, only so much the human mind can endure. And when reading this, one has to ask…would I?

We like to think that they only ate those who had already starved or frozen. But history records that two Native American guides were murdered for their flesh. And who’s to say what else may have happened out there, with no witnesses?

Talky Talk: Tales that Witness Madness

I’ve always liked this unconventional author. He’s written similar stories about the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Titanic. Wolf certainly does his research, including over forty pages of notes. He likes odd point of view characters, such as Hunger here or the iceberg that took out the Titanic. While I’d forgotten his name, I recognized his unique style immediately. Definitely going to reread some of his older works soon.

The author did a great job of making historical figures come to life: a female botanist forced to eat her specimens and burn her books. A pompous politician, exiled from the party for killing a man. Two forcibly Christianized Native Americans who believe the white people consider them part of the group. A young man and woman, whose burgeoning romance is cut off by the tragedy. An orphan, desperately trying to save his beloved oxen. A mother determined to have a Christmas celebration for her kids. A murderer, haunted by the ghost of a man he abandoned to die on the trail. The author admits he had to take certain liberties in writing their stories, but it makes for compelling reading.

Bonus Factor: Starvation

Bowl of Indian food with naan bread next to it

Our narrator, Hunger, doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to grizzly descriptions. First, we learn what hunger does to the body, how it starts digesting fats, then muscles, then cannibalizing the lesser organs. And of course, we learn just which body parts provide which nutrients: protein from the muscles, sugars from the brain, etc. In once scene, a woman reflects on what a beautiful heart her late husband had…as she watches it roast on a stick. I’d probably keep this book away from younger readers.

Bromance Status: Dinner Date

The years have kind of turned the Donner Party into a punchline, with jokes and even a board game resulting from the dark humor. But Wolf makes us realize that over forty people died horribly that winter and they deserve our respect. I plant to revisit this book again.

Perhaps over a meal of liver and fava beans…

Literary Matchmaking

A Trick of the Light

For another book with an unconventional, sinister narrator, read A Trick of the Light, by Lois Metzger.

Under A Painted Sky

For a slightly less upsetting Western, pick up Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky.

The Game of Love and Death

The Game of Love and Death, by Martha Brockenbrough, is another chilling story set in the past.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money nor bare bones rations for writing this review. The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep is available now.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.