The Thing In The Snow (William Morrow) is set in a remote location “where the snow never melts.” Given my fiery hatred of Iowa winters, this was already enough to catapult me into a headspace of inexplicable tension that kept me turning the pages of Sean Adams’ latest novel.
Our narrator, Hart, is a supervisor tasked with making sure the Northern Institute, formerly a research facility, remains a place where “research cannot possibly occur.” The abandoned state of the Institute makes the presence of Gilroy, the last remaining researcher at the facility, even more curious. Hart is in charge of two subordinates: Gibbs, who Hart suspects is secretly plotting to take his job, and Cline, who he describes as “easily distracted and unintelligent.”
The staff doesn’t know their coordinates, they don’t know what research used to be conducted there, they don’t know the exact temperature in the facility. And they don’t know what the ominous black shape near the eastern wing of the building is, the titular “thing in the snow.”
In accordance to the wishes of Hart’s superior, Kay, the team strives for “efficiency,” spending their days carrying out their assignments: opening and closing doors to make sure they are functioning properly, using golf balls to check if table surfaces are level, sitting and shifting around on chairs to make sure they are sturdy enough, etcetera.
Hart regards this busywork with the utmost seriousness, obeying orders and filling out endless forms. Despite managerial aspirations, Hart is seemingly at a professional dead end. It’s bad enough that our narrator is insecure about his leadership status, but like his team, he is left in the dark about practically everything.
Seeing the title, my mind flashed with images from John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing, a story centering on a team of researchers in Antarctica pitted against an unfathomable threat. A notable influence on that film is the work of horror scribe H.P. Lovecraft, who penned his own tale of an Arctic expedition team in his 1936 novella At The Mountains of Madness.
Thinking I had ventured across this frozen terrain before, I discover Adams once again subverts all expectations save one: delivering a superb novel in another year seemingly destined for the dumpster fire (a lesson I should have learned from reviewing the author’s debut novel The Heap in 2020.)
Here, Adams lures readers into a world as claustrophobic as a snow globe, then shakes things up with a flurry of satirical commentary on the surreal and absurd nature of workplace culture. I am reminded of the space truckers in another Carpenter film, Dark Star (1974), and the cubicle dwellers in Mike Judge’s Office Space (1999). However, such comparisons last only briefly, as Adams gifts readers a uniquely hilarious yet frightening vision with The Thing In The Snow.
(Reviewer’s Note: Special thanks to Beaverdale Books in Des Moines for lending an emergency copy of the book to Little Village for review.)
This article was originally published in Little Village’s March 2023 issues.