Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Ice House

The Ice House by Laura Lee Smith
Grove/Atlantic: 12/5/17
eBook review copy; 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802127082

The Ice House by Laura Lee Smith is a highly recommended family drama ultimately about forgiveness in spite of differences.

Johnny MacKinnon, 53, and his second wife Pauline, 50, are the owners of the Bold City 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 OSHA 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 teenager neighbor, Chemal, with him to act as his driver. This leaves Pauline alone to handle the upcoming OSHA trial, while worrying over Johnny's approaching surgery.

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 several  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.

No comments: