BOOK REVIEW / Bubblegum blues: 'The Ice Storm' - Rick Moody: Abacus, 9.99 pounds

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The Independent Culture
RICK MOODY is a youngish guy with two degrees and a leather jacket who's written a book about growing up in the mid-Seventies. It's not hard to imagine thousands like him, their manuscripts popping with you-had-to-be-there references, their safety nets of irony straining with generational narcissism. And Moody is an American, so his choice of period icons (the Frazier/Ali rematch, Nixon arming Israel, Sunrise Semester) is likely to deny us even the shallow pleasure of recognition.

Surprisingly, this doesn't matter, as The Ice Storm quickly finds its way out of the nostalgia cul-de-sac. For a start, it isn't very nostalgic. It's full of

dirt: bad food, bad sex, people vomiting all over the modular furniture. And its characters are not so much excuses for period stereotyping as credibly flawed human beings, full of deceits and frustrations.

The Hood family live in a WaspyConnecticut suburb called New Canaan, thick with shrubs but socially 'barren as a rock face'. Father Benjamin 'loved his wife and children, and hated all evidence of them'. The feeling is mutual: mother Elena sits self- absorbed in 'a bottomless pit of loneliness', daughter Wendy spins the television dial and son Paul takes refuge reading The Fantastic Four cartoons. Their lives creak along, made tolerable by affairs with neighbours and gossip about the neighbourhood - until a vicious winter storm forces everyone together, and all their small lies and animosities become unbearable.

Moody contrives this cleverly, the characters first ignoring then glancing off each other, then converging, then colliding. Three of the Hoods run away from tense domesticity by going to bed with members of the family next door, then get caught and try to deny it, while accusing the others. Moody's intentions aren't just comedic, however. As in Martin Amis's Dead Babies (written during the period in which this book is set), the plot accelerates from debauched to scary to moving. The storm is partly responsible for this transformation, killing one character and creating a dangerous environment for the slapstick antics of all the others. Unexpectedly, the cultural references are instrumental, too: kitschy at the start but emotive by the end. Whether they're specific - Wendy turning A Charlie Brown Christmas up ever louder on the TV to blot out Benjamin battling with Elena - or more vaguely pervasive - the stale, end-of-theSixties air that hangs over the characters' feeble permissiveness - they make the book seem serious and concrete, rather than frivolous and distant.

By the end, Moody's tone has turned stern, a contemporary voice scolding, not chuckling over, the hubris he sees in the Seventies: 'History . . . was subtle and enduring and its circular shape caught the Hoods . . . you could pay Arthur Janov to teach you to scream . . . learn a prayer or a mantra . . . but that was the best you could probably do. You were stuck.' It's hardly the conclusion suggested by the bubblegum wrappers on the book's cover, thankfully - though it sets you wondering whether Moody would dare to be as harsh on the Nineties.

(Photograph omitted)

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