I really didn’t expect to enjoy this novel as much as I did, mainly because a lot of people I’ve spoken to about the author, Rick Moody, never had anything good to say about him. Why this is, I have no idea. Probably just the typical “literary trash talk” one usually hears among writers and literary types. I’m glad I never listen to anyone and decide to explore writers and books in order to make up my own mind because this novel was simply brilliant and there is such a wonderful story being told here, I couldn’t help but be hooked right from the very first page.
“The Ice Storm” is an old book by now - nearly 20 years since its initial publication - and nearly that long since Ang Lee’s film adaption. But I never got around to read it, or anything else by this author, and I am glad I finally did. Set in 1973, during Thanksgiving weekend when a freak ice storm had pounded the northeast (something I remember vividly as a child), the story explores the trials and tribulations of two suburban Connecticut families - the Hoods and the Williamses. It the height at the sexual revolution and the adults in each of these families are grappling with the changing times and cultural mores: attitudes towards drugs, sex, politics, etc. Their quiet, suburban “paradise” is slowly breaking apart, as are the individual families, who are on the surface the portrait of suburban “respectability” but behind these closed doors and manicured lawns lies its true face - infidelity, divorce, lack of concern for what their kids are up to. The adults in the story are too busy looking inward - as evidenced by their explorations of the psychological and sexual fads of the day - wondering why their lives had not turned out they way they expected, often turning a blind eye to how this was effecting their children.
The kids in the story - mostly teenagers - are just as lost and confused as their parents, taking cues from their own explorations of sex and drugs, all coming of age in a time when it seemed the “innocence” of America was coming apart at the seams: Watergate, the Vietnam War, the destruction of the “traditional” family unit. It is among this atmosphere where you can see the seeds of the confusion and cynicism of the following generation being planted. It is tragicomic, the humor just as resonating as the seriousness underlying the story.
If you were a child of the 1970s - as I was, although only seven years old in 1973 - you will appreciate all the pop cultural references and background of this story. It’s all here: the music, the “modernist” furniture, the shag rugs, the black light posters, the drugs, the “key parties”, the youthful sexual experimentation. For me, personally, it brought back some interesting memories. For those who were the age of these kids, it should resonate even more. Moody captures the era perfectly, brilliantly.
The structure of the novel is interesting as well and I found it very similar to Junot Díaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and you can clearly see the influence this novel had on Díaz. So if you are a fan of Díaz’s novel, you will appreciate this one as well, although set in a very different time. You could almost see Díaz’s novel being the novel the children of these parents would have written after they had grown up (setting aside the completely different cultural aspects, naturally). The double meaning of the title was also interesting to me, not only referencing the climate of this particular weekend in 1973, but the cold, remote climate among the members of the families on the verge of coming apart.
I really enjoyed this novel a lot and glad I decided to read it. I found Rick Moody’s writing excellent, not to mention entertaining and now am eager to explore his other work. If you haven’t read this, I recommend that you do. It’s a truly wonderful story - and brilliantly told at that.