The Ice House by Laura Lee Smith
eBook review copy; 448 pages
The Ice House by Laura Lee Smith is a highly recommended family drama ultimately about forgiveness in spite of differences.
MacKinnon, 53, and his second wife Pauline, 50, are the owners of the
Ice Plant, an inherited ice house business, located in Jacksonville,
Florida. Johnny, originally from Scotland, has a 30 year old son,
Corran, still living in Scotland. Although Corran has visited Johnny in
Florida for years, after his last visit, Johnny made it clear he was
done with Corran, a heroin addict, after he stole from Johnny and
Pauline. The estranged relationship between father and son isn't the
only problem facing the MacKinnons. The ice house is facing astronomical
fines following a leak of ammonia gas. While they are sure it was no
accident and probably due to drug dealers in the neighborhood stealing
the ammonia, they have no proof of this yet and have to find some ground
for their appeal. The final straw is when Johnny is discovered to have a
brain tumor that has to be removed. Johnny is put on medication and
told to rest for two weeks before the tumor is removed.
Johnny, never very good at taking it easy, decides that he needs to
visit Corran and try to mend their relationship because his tumor may
mean this is his last chance to do so. It seems that Corran is now
clean, according to Johnny's ex-wife, Sharon. Corran is also taking care
of his nine-month old daughter by himself after his wife was sent to
prison for smuggling heroin. Johnny returns to Scotland to see Corran,
Sharon, and his granddaughter. And because he can't drive, Johnny takes
Chemal, with him to act as his driver. This leaves Pauline alone to
handle the upcoming OSHA trial, while worrying over Johnny's approaching
Smith has written an excellent feel-good novel in The Ice House.
The writing really is quite good. There is a keen insight into all of
the well-developed characters,
making them real people with flaws and weaknesses along with strengths.
She has managed to capture the shared feeling that time is slipping by
for Johnny, Pauline, and Sharon, as well as with the rest of the cast of
characters. Smith has chapters from the perspective of several
characters, which helps create a complete picture of everyone involved
in the various dilemmas facing the main protagonists and their personal
problems. Life can be messy and complicated, and Smith captures this. At
the same time, readers will care what happens to the motley group.
While placing her characters in some dire situations, she also has
comedic moments along with the tender, heart breaking scenes.
But make no mistake about it, this is a novel with a message -
relationships are vital and forgiveness of others (and yourself) is
essential. This would be an excellent choice to read for escapism,
especially when you want everything resolved. For me, there are a few
flaws. The novel does tend to meander a bit too much and, for me at
least, everything is too-tidily resolved at the end (which, after we've
seen how messy life can be in the bulk of the novel, seems to be overly
optimistic and unrealistic.)
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove/Atlantic via Netgalley.