Book Review: “The Thing in the Snow” by Sean Adams


Witty, dry and subtly surreal, Sean Adams’ “The Thing in the Snow” is a mannered send-up of office culture.

The book is set in the isolation of the Northern Institute, where a caretaker crew of three workers sits bunkered in an expanse of ice. Research funding has dried up, but the parent organization doesn’t want to close the institute, so the group is there to keep things in shape. They’re mostly on their own. Their only outlet to outside world is a task list and Post-It notes dead-dropped via a weekly helicopter.

The crew passes the time with pointless work, checking the window blinds or counting the building’s chairs. But one day they spot something outsideā€¦a thing in the snow.

In the boredom they inhabit, the thing becomes a near obsession, even as the group tries to unravel the other mysteries of the Northern Institute. Why does time pass so slowly here? Why do their memories seem garbled? What’s with the strange messages the former researchers left under the tables? And why has one scientist chosen to stay marooned with them, working on a solitary, barely sane treatise about the cold?

Those questions make the book sound more fantastical than it is. While Adams conjures a good sense of mystery, the overall tone of “The Thing in the Snow” is workplace satire. Much of the book is told from the perspective of Hart, the status-fixated manager of the crew. A middle manager to his core, he’s committed to preserving his place in the hierarchy and ensuring optimal workplace management, even as “the thing” grows weirder and the tasks more meaningless.

If you can manage the deliberately staid tone Adams uses, you’ll find a creative exploration of life and work and how we might waste our years putting too much importance on the latter. I found “The Thing in the Snow” brisk and funny, a worthwhile accomplishment.


“The point is, had I waited, the other two might have known a world without coffee and light socialization to look forward to each morning, and then they might see my commitment to going above and beyond and appreciate me more. But I do not feel appreciated. I feel taken for granted and often disrespected, and also powerless to correct matters, as voicing one’s desire to be respected and not to be taken for granted is much like voicing one’s desire for light socialization–antithetical to achieving the stated goal.”

“The others’ distaste for Gilroy is not unfounded. Condescending, pretentious, and often outright batty, he’s the kind of person who eschews empathy with such vigor that distaste is not just warranted, it is the correct evolutionary response, and anyone who might express a response otherwise would raise red flags about their own penchant for sociopathy.”