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Dear Charlie,

I've seen reports that you're on your way back. From blurry satellite images, you seem to be doing fine. The doctors tell me I don't have long to live. Neither do you. Good luck.

Your loving brother,

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Larry

Mark Sedore's previous entries to the International 3-Day Novel Contest earned him honourable mention and second place, so his win in the 32nd annual contest for his lean, tightly written Snowmen makes him a poster boy for perseverance. But perseverance only pays off in this contest if you've actually got writing chops, and that's an area in which Sedore is certainly not lacking.

Sedore doesn't waste words, yet brilliantly manages to convey the bitter, antagonistic relationship between brothers Charlie and Larry, the two main characters. But bitter as their relationship is, there's a strong sense throughout the novel that it's mostly their fundamental differences in natures that are to blame, not any kind of malicious intent. (Larry is incredibly socially awkward, finding it difficult to engage with people on the simplest levels, while Charlie is your average, well-adjusted guy.) So when Larry gets brain cancer (having already beaten the Big C twice in different parts of his body), any chance at bridging the gap between the brothers vanishes day by day as Larry's mind betrays him.

During a conversation in Larry's back yard, in which Larry tells Charlie about his cancer (his doctor gives him a year or two to live), Larry decides he wants to be the first person to walk alone across the Arctic Circle, from Canada to Russia - now completely frozen after a massive global climate shift. He sees it as his legacy, some way to make a definitive mark on the world. It is also something the boys' father had always wanted to do. But then Larry's cancer advances and he gets too sick to undertake the journey. So Charlie steps in to make the trek on his dying brother's behalf.

Complicating matters is the fact that the woman Larry loves, Sandy, has fallen in love with Charlie, so Larry, even from his sickbed in the hospital, plots to make his brother's Arctic journey a failure - possibly even fatal.

Sedore weaves all these elements easily and with precision, narratively flipping back and forth, chapter to chapter, from the Arctic adventure itself to the events leading up to it. He skillfully fleshes out the characters and their motivations through dialogue and Charlie's first-person narration, revealing precisely enough in each chapter to keep reader interest high. One of the strongest aspects of the novel is that the loneliness and peril of the Arctic trek, as seen through Charlie's eyes, feels natural and understated, never relying on melodrama.

A lesser writer would have taken twice these 170 pages to tell the same story with as much resonance. Through his sparse, economical writing and keen ear for believable dialogue, Sedore unerringly pulls the reader in, making us care about the three main players in the book. We care deeply what happens to them all - even Larry, despite his vindictiveness. Or maybe because of it.

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By turns, engaging, gripping, endearing, heartbreaking and funny, this is a fine novel by a talented young writer.

Brett Alexander Savory is a writer, editor and publisher, and the author of In and Down.

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