Posted by: Tom Owen | August 17, 2009

The Ice Storm (1994) – Rick Moody SPS 1979

The Ice Storm
(from Wikipedia)

The Ice Storm is a 1994 American novel by Rick Moody. The novel was widely acclaimed by readers and critics alike, hailed as a funny, acerbic, and moving hymn to a dazed and confused era of American life.

In 1997, the novel was adapted into an acclaimed feature film directed by Ang Lee, featuring a cast including Joan Allen, Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood and Tobey Maguire. The film also marked the screen debut of Katie Holmes as Libbets Casey.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Biographical Notes
Moody was born in New York City and grew up in several of the Connecticut suburbs, including Darien and New Canaan, where he later set stories and novels. He graduated from St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire and Brown University. He received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University in 1986.

Plot Summary
The novel is set before, during and after Thanksgiving, leading up to a threatening ice storm and centers on two neighboring families, the Hoods and the Williamses, and the difficulties they have dealing with the tumultuous political and social climate of the day, in affluent suburban Connecticut, in 1973.

The novel is narrated from four different perspectives, each of them a member of the two families, who are promoting their own opinion and views of the several complications that arise throughout the novel, including their encounters and daily life. The Hood family is overridden with lies: Ben is currently in an affair with his married neighbor Janey, his wife Elena shoplifts, her daughter ventures on her own sexual liaisons with both females and males of her age, including her neighbors Mikey and Sandy.

The Hoods are Ben, Elena, Paul and Wendy and the Williamses are Jim, Janey, Mikey, and Sandy. The story focuses on a brief period of time when a major ice storm hits their town of New Canaan, Connecticut, just as both families are melting down from the parents’ alcoholism, escapism and adultery, and their children’s drug use and sexual experimentation.

Themes and Analysis
The novel’s central themes are the loss of innocence and moral compass in middle-upper class Americans, and the 1970s era. It also deals with several underlying themes, including the Watergate scandal and suburban secrets, such as sexual experimentation by youths, and the same thing being done by the adults who are failing to be role models for their children, as well as their absence from their children’s lives, which causes the most significant problems in the novel. The novel is also set during the time of the sexual revolution, which is obviously a central part since a recurring theme is sexuality. The rapidly changing sexual era is reflected in the lives of both families, who, as the revolution approached, have experimented with new, taboo sexual acts, such as incest and adultery.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Critical reception
The Ice Storm was largely commended for its audacity and the many daring subjects explored in the novel.

Critic Adam Begley of the Chicago Tribune called the novel: “A bitter and loving and damning tribute to the American family…. This is a good book, packed with keen observation and sympathy for human failure” while The Guardian called it “one of the wittiest books about family life ever written.” Amanda Heller of The Boston Globe stated “Moody brings this profusion of metaphor to order with a fierce, subversive intelligence. His characters, drawn with a manic acuity that isn’t fully accounted for until the end, stay with us long after we’ve finished reading.”

The novel was a moderate success commercially; however its sales were boosted in 1997 with the release of the film adaptation.

Film Adaptation
The film adaptation of The Ice Storm featured a cast including Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire and Elijah Wood. The film was a succès d’estime as an art house film and critically acclaimed despite a poor box office, however it gained a modest reception on subsequent home video releases. While remaining more or less faithful to the book, some details were changed. Most notably, Weaver and Jamey Sheridan’s characters were named Janey and Jim Carver, while in Moody’s book, their surname was Williams.


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