The Ice Storm: A Novel

( 6 )

Overview

The year is 1973. As a freak winter storm bears down on an exclusive, affluent suburb in Connecticut, cark skid out of control, men and women swap partners, and their children experiment with sex, drugs, and even suicide. Here two families, the Hoods and the Williamses, com face-to-face with the seething emotions behind the well-clipped lawns of their lives-in a novel widely hailed as a funny, acerbic, and moving hymn to a dazed and confused era of American life.

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Overview

The year is 1973. As a freak winter storm bears down on an exclusive, affluent suburb in Connecticut, cark skid out of control, men and women swap partners, and their children experiment with sex, drugs, and even suicide. Here two families, the Hoods and the Williamses, com face-to-face with the seething emotions behind the well-clipped lawns of their lives-in a novel widely hailed as a funny, acerbic, and moving hymn to a dazed and confused era of American life.

The literary event of the season: a long-awaited novel that transports us back to the 1970s--and puts a nervy postmodern spin on the familiar suburban territory of Cheever, Updike, and Irving. By turns funny and lacerating, The Ice Storm is a family romance written with insight and generosity.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Exhaustive detailing of early 1970s popular/consumer culture in suburban New England provides the context for this archetypal tale of the American nuclear family in decline. The affluent WASP community of New Canaan, Conn., is home to the Hood and Williams families, neighboring two-parent, two-child households built around increasingly dysfunctional marriages. Benjamin Hood, plagued by a loss of importance at work and a growing drinking problem, pursues an ill-fated affair with Janey Williams; his wife, Elena, feels herself losing what little regard she has left for him. Meanwhile, the adolescent children of both families experiment with sex, alcohol and drugs to find identities and to overcome a ponderous sense of alienation. A neighborhood "key party,'' at which couples exchange mates by drawing keys out of a bowl, brings the action to a chaotic climax as an apocalyptic winter storm culminates in physical tragedy to match the emotional damage in the small community. Pop-cultural references of the time, from Hush Puppies to the film Billy Jack, pervade the text. Unfortunately, Moody, winner of the Pushcart Press Editors' Book Award for his first novel, Garden State, tends to use these details in a more encyclopedic than evocative manner. His depiction of these families, however, is insightful and convincing, penetrating the thoughts and fears of each individual. And the central tragedy of his tale remains resonant, though his decrying of our cultural wasteland seems a bit stale. (May)
From Barnes & Noble
This novel about a fractured suburban family and a Thanksgiving weekend that changed life forever is a devastating statement on American political & moral values in the 1970s--the era of Nixon and Vietnam, bad music and shag carpeting, cheap psychology and "key parties"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316706001
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 4/10/2002
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 454,804
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Rick Moody
Rick Moody, a child of the 1970s and the privileged middle class of the Northeast, has become a specialist in dissecting both in his novels and short stories, which tend to focus on the troubled state of the nuclear family.

Biography

A bitter wind blows through the suburban landscapes created by novelist Rick Moody. Consider the elements of his second -- and most famous -- creation, The Ice Storm: Watergate hearings, marital infidelity, spouse-swapping key parties, familial disenfranchisement, and one teenager's chance meeting with an errant power line. All over Thanksgiving weekend.

"Rick Moody's The Ice Storm," wrote the Chicago Tribune's Adam Begley in 1994, "a bitter and loving and damning tribute to the American family, belongs to a subgenre I think of as suburban Gothic-tidy lawns and two-car garages, all the vulgar complacencies of affluence, mixed with brooding horror, melodramatic violence, extreme psychological states."

These Gothic-tidy lawns are the stuff of Moody's childhood. Though born in New York City, he grew up in various suburbs, including New Caanan, Connecticut, the home of the Hood family, his hapless, disconnected brood in The Ice Storm. A child of the 1970s, he apparently took copious notes, because his novels are filled with the detail of the period: the books, the articles, Masters & Johnson, Creem.

"[The Ice Storm] is not so much a novel as an excavation -- of that nearly but not quite extinct entity the nuclear family as it was in those dark ages, the 1970s," the Los Angeles Times noted. "The argot, the foibles, the fads and the artifacts: They're all here, meticulously catalogued and historically framed with discussions of the design, politics and groping psychology of the period."

In Purple America, Moody again visits the neighborhoods of privileged Connecticut, exploring the disappointments and debauchery of the American middle class. Set over a 24-hour period, the novel follows late-30s alcoholic Hex Raitliffe, who comes home to care for his invalid mother, abandoned by his stepfather, who manages a nearby nuclear power plant.

The Chicago Tribune pronounced the novel "dazzling" and even drew comparisons to Shakespeare: "While it might seem a blasphemous assertion, readers also may sense Moody's kinship to the young bard in his exuberance at the possibilities of language. Self-consciously artful but rarely obtrusive, Moody's prose dazzles with labyrinthine sentences of Faulknerian length. Its opening passage rings with biblical cadences, into the middle of which he tosses a Zen koan, all describing Hex giving his mother a bath. So rich, in fact, is this book that it demands to be read at least twice."

Following his studies at Brown University and the master of fine arts program at Columbia University, Moody worked as an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux -- a position that, one interviewer noted, made Moody wince upon recollection -- before releasing his first novel, Garden State, in 1992. He has also released two collections of short fiction, as well as a memoir, The Black Veil, in which he talks of the substance abuse that threw him into a life-threatening depression and recalls a relative who wore a black veil for much of his adult life, as atonement for accidentally killing a childhood friend.

"I'm naturally drawn to stuff you're not supposed to talk about," he told the The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1998. "I think literature is best when it's voicing what we would prefer not to talk about.... Literature is about interior states and emotional states, about what people think that they don't always say to their neighbors. I'm drawn magnetically with my tangled long sentences to those spots people don't want to talk about."

Good To Know

Moody wore a veil during his stint at the Yaddo artists' colony, where he worked on his memoir and family history, The Black Veil.

His father used to read from Moby-Dick at the dinner table each Thanksgiving.

Moody likes to write on the road on his laptop, listening to experimental music -- as a way to avoid distraction.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Hiram F. Moody, III
    2. Hometown:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 18, 1961
    1. Education:
      B.A., Brown University, 1983; M.F.A., Columbia University, 1986

Reading Group Guide

1. Discuss the book's title. Does it signify anything beyond the freak November storm that rages throughout the novel?

2. The Ice Storm is filled with period detail that captures the tone and texture of the 1970's. What might be different about the lives of the Hood and Williams families if their story were unfolding today?

3. Each member of the Hood family acknowledges feeling lonely. What accounts for this prevailing sense of alienation?

4. "Wendy's ambition was to be as unlike her mother as possible in every way." How unusual is such a sentiment in a fourteen-year-old girl? In what ways is Wendy's situation extreme?

5. Rick Moody has been frequently compared with John Cheever and John Updike as a chronicler of suburban American life. Do you think the drama (and comedy) of The Ice Storm is intrinsically suburban? In what ways might story be different if the novel's setting were urban or rural?

6. The Ice Storm is set in the era of the sexual revolution. Discuss the ways in which the radically changing mores of the time are reflected in the lives of each member of the Hood family.

7. The novel is narrated from four different perspectives. Was there one perspective, one series of passages, that you enjoyed reading more than the others? Why?

8. Benjamin Hood explains to his wife that unfaithfulness is "the law of the land." Do you agree with him? Do you think this justifies his adultery?

9. For which of the novel's characters did you feel the greatest sympathy? Why?

10. If members of your reading group have seen the movie The Ice Storm, discuss the ways in which the book and film differ, and the extent to which the film succeeds in capturing the book's essence.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2007

    Actually surpassed by the film.

    This was my first read of anything of Moody's, and as an author he strikes me as typically East Coast/high income/hoighty-toighty. While it is a great story and a few of the characters do really shine, the film does a much better job of connecting you with their story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2009

    Extremely disturbing

    The book is disgusting from beginning to end. It provides good discussion if you can stomach it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 10, 2008

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    Posted January 17, 2010

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    Posted September 12, 2010

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    Posted October 25, 2008

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