BOOK REVIEW / Wife-swapping on a mustard rug: The ice storm - Rick Moody: Abacus, pounds 8.99
Saturday 23 July 1994
The story concerns a family, the Hoods, in New Canaan, New England. All of them are childish, all find sex a locus for deep humiliation; all are lonely. The son, Paul, away at school, belongs to a 'confraternity of burnouts,'; the daughter, Wendy, is considered a pervert by her friends, and wishes she deserved the name; the mother, Elena, finds everything an effort - for her even being lied to is 'such work'; but above all it is the father, Benjamin, who has a self-indulgently sinking heart. He confronts himself in a mirror one evening, waiting for his mistress: 'His hair was going. He'd worn it short all his life - he'd never seen it really - and now it was gone.' The shift here, from 'going' to 'gone,' is typical of the deft way in which Moody exposes each character's weaknesses.
Any family can get depressed, but this is 1973, and the Summer of Love has, 'migrated, in its drug-resistant strain, to the Connecticut suburbs about five years after its initial introduction'. The Hood children are on the loose attempting pitiful seductions, while their parents, in an atmosphere of extreme marital disharmony, find themselves at their first ever wife-swapping party.
Here the plot grows increasingly twisted and compelling; an ice storm bursts overhead, and various members of the family are stranded in the wrong bed, on the wrong lavatory floor, or across the wrong train seat. As the Hoods shame themselves and disintegrate we almost wish their customary level of social ineptitude, otherwise nearly intolerable, could have seen them through the night as well as the day.
The reader sticks with this misery, driven by a desire to know whether the characters will break down completely, or somehow break out of their unwholesome world. In the end, however, only the author himself comes across as having sufficient humanity for a broad point of view. Intermittently, and interestingly, Moody raises the question of the place of the narrator in this tale, both declaring him to be one of the characters, now reminiscing, and admitting that there is, let's face it, a novelist at work here. Contrary to what one might expect, these interludes are refreshing, particularly the passage where he formally introduces violent senselessness as the contribution of nature to the plot.
In short, The Ice Storm is in many ways a truly dismal read, but Moody's high humour and certain touch make dismal about as enticing as it's ever going to be.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Christmas comes early to Hong Kong, as millions of bank notes spill out onto busy street
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 4 Northern Lights above Britain: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
- 5 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Christmas Day TV guide 2014: What to watch from Strictly Come Dancing to the story of Frozen
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
The Interview is finally released after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food